TV Science Fiction & Fantasy

THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. “The Crowd.” HBO, season 1, episode 3 (2 July 1985). Nick Mancuso, R. H. Thomson, David Hughes. Hosted and based on the story by Ray Bradbury. Director: Ralph L. Thomas.

   This one’s a ghost story, and like most ghost stories, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s slickly done, with high production values, and there are some appreciably spooky moments. But it didn’t work for me in any way, shape, or form, and I can’t tell you too much as to why without issuing a Spoiler Alert, so consider it done.

   The idea is that a survivor of a near deadly automobile incident can’t figure out how such a loud noisy crowd of people formed around the scene of the accident so quickly. (The tires hadn’t even stopped spinning.) Probing further, he discovers that the same crowd of individuals were seen (via videotape) at many other such accidents, most of them fatal. Against the advice of a good friend, he makes the mistake of trying to find out more.

   To me, with a logical mind, the question is not how these crowds of ghostly origin form so quickly, but why. I don’t remember how it’s replied to in the story, but this 27 minute cable TV episode answers with mirrors, atmosphere, glitz and special effects. It doesn’t go anywhere near a reason and relies instead on a knock-em-out finale that’s there for shock value only.

by Michael Shonk

THE WANDERER. Fingertip Film Production for Yorkshire Television, ZDF, and Antena 3, UK, 1994. Thirteen 60m episodes. Cast: Bryan Brown as Adam/Zachary, Tony Haygarth as Godbold, Kim Thomson as Princess Beatrice, Otto Tausig as Mathias and Deborah Moore as Clare. Created by Roy Clarke from an idea by Tom Gabbay. Executive Producers: Keith Richardson and Tom Gabby.

   This obscure fantasy with supernatural elements clothed in a road drama format lasted thirteen episodes. It was a European production (Yorkshire TV – British, ZDF – German, and Antena 3 – French) that was offered in U.S. syndication at least twice (according to Broadcasting & Cable) in 1995, but it may never have sold.

   The series starred Bryan Brown as twin brothers – good Adam and evil Zachary. The two brothers lived in the 10th Century during the first Millennium where they were locked in a battle between good and evil. Adam won the battle and killed Zachary.

   As the second millennium approaches, the brothers are back for a rematch. Adam’s memory of his past life is incomplete while Zachary remembers everything and demands Adam takes him to his grave. Adam can’t remember where the grave is so he wanders around searching for it, stopping to help others and frustrating the impatient Zachary.

   Each brother has allies. Adam’s most important ally is former 10th century Monk turn modern-day plumber Godbold. Mathis is rich Adam’s personal assistant who has no connection to Adam’s past. Along the way Adam saves Claire who is really his true love from the 10th century. Fearing for her life Adam continues to push her away, ordering her to leave him and live her new life without him. A modern day woman, she refuses to listen.

   Zachary also has an ally the magically gifted Princess Beatrice who a thousand years later remains upset that Adam had rejected her. The cliché over-the-top medieval Princess/witch spends much of her time keeping Zachary focused on the plan to kill Adam and take over the World.

   The Wanderer is flawed but watchable in a fun stupid TV sort of way. The acting is not a plus. Brown plays Adam as dull and clueless and Zachary as if he was comedy relief. The writing was at times lazy (sudden visions often guided our travelers). Nor did anyone seem to take the story seriously (Zachary is distracted from taking over the World by his desire to write and star in a musical for the stage). Writer Roy Clarke is best know for his comedy writing in such British series as Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearance.

   YouTube currently has all thirteen episodes except for episode 1 and 6. Below are two examples: Episode 2 “Mind Games” and the series last episode “Knight Time.”

“Mind Games.” Witten by Roy Clarke. Directed by Terry Marcel. GUEST CAST: Alexander Strobele, Ann Kathrin Kramer, and August Schmolzer. *** As Adam wanders searching for where he buried Zachary, he helps a young woman accused of murder.

“Knight Time.” Written by Roy Clarke. Directed by Alan Grint. GUEST CAST: Big Mick, Kenny Baker, and David J. Nicholls. *** The brothers fight at the site of Zachary’s grave. An incredibly annoying stupid ending that disappoints even those with the lowest expectations.

   The series has never been and unlikely ever to be released on DVD.

THE FLASH. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). The CW, 7 October 2014. Grant Gustin (Barry Allen / The Flash), Candice Patton (Iris West), Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp. Based on the character in DC Comics. Developed by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg. David Nutter.

   One episode isn’t enough to say, but after watching this first one on DVD, I was more impressed than I expected to be. I enjoyed this one. It was done well, and I will be watching to see what comes next.

   If it devolves into a series of corny supervillains every week, that may end it for me, but at the moment, after stage one, there are a number of interesting plot threads this series has going for it already, and they were all crammed into one 45 minute episode. Amazing.

   To enumerate: The Flash, or rather Barry Allen, is the fastest man alive. As a young forensic crime scene assistant, he obtains this ability through an explosion of a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs, after awakening from a coma lasting nine months. (Any significance to that?)

   Some background: his father is in prison, having been convicted of killing his mother when he was a small boy. The father (John Wesley Shipp, the previous TV Flash) is innocent. Young Barry grew up with a police detective named Joe West and his daughter Iris. He may be in love with her now, but she now has a secret romance with her father’s partner on the police force.

   The head of S.T.A.R. Labs is in a wheelchair from the accident, but with two assistants he works with Barry, helping to gauge his powers, designing a suitable suit, and so on. Barry is determined to use his powers for good, which is a good thing, because other people affected by the accident have also become metahumans, and they have begun to use their powers in other ways, all bad.

   The special effects are terrific, and the acting on the part of the very young (mid-20s?) actors (or am I just old) is adequate, if not more. I admit the overall ambiance is comicky, but maybe that’s just me. There is a quick scene at the end which suggests that there are other secrets yet to be revealed. Tune in next week! I think I will. (The DVD set already paid for.)

“The Monster of Peladon.” A serial of six episodes from Dr Who, BBC, UK, 23 March to 27 April 1974. (Season 11, Episodes 15-20). Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Donald Gee, Nina Thomas, Frank, Rex Robinson, Alan Bennion. Writer: Brian Hayles. Script editor: Terrance Dicks. Director: Lennie Mayne.

   This six-episode sequel to “The Curse of Peladon” (Season Nine, 1972) takes place 50 years later, with the Doctor and Sarah Jane discovering that the planet Peladon’s decision to join the Galactic Federation is not going so well.

   The trisilicate miners are demanding better working conditions, but keeping them under their rulers’ thumb is a phantom replica of Aggedor, the royal beast, who starts appearing in the mines and using a heat ray to disintegrate rebellious miners. The politics of the situation are not only local. There are also intergalactic considerations at play as well, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane land the Tardis right in the middle of them.

   Not one of the better serials, I’m afraid. All of the action takes place in a underground rooms connected by dark torch-lit passageways, with a lot of fur-haired miners running back and forth (and probably in circles) to mostly no avail.

   Episodes two and three cover mostly the same ground and could easily have been combined into one. It isn’t until episode four, when Commander Azaxyr and a force of Ice Warriors come to take over the planet in the name of the Federation, that anything other the same old, same old happens.

   There is a surprise twist or two in the final two episodes that almost (but not quite) makes this serial stand out above the mediocre. There is a brief attempt by Sarah Jane to convince the Queen of Peladon that she should stand up more herself, but not too long afterward, the latter is dragged along as a hostage just as damsels in distress always did, long before women’s lib came along.

   It should be noted that Commander Azaxyr’s full-face helmeted and caped garb, along with his heavy breathing while talking, is unmistakably an early prototype of Darth Vader, well before the latter showed up in a totally different setting.

CLEOPATRA 2525. Syndicated. Episode #1 “Quest for Firepower” and episode #2 “Creegan.” January 17 & 24, 2000. Jennifer Sky (Cleopatra), Gina Torres (Hel), Victoria Pratt (Sarge), Patrick Kake (Mauser), Elizabeth Hawthorne (The Voice), Joel Tobeck (Creegan). Executive Producer: Sam Raimi. Created by R. J. Stewart and Robert G. Tapert.

   I’ve watched only the first two episodes, so far, and I’ve surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. I can’t imagine the budget was all that large, but the sets are colorful and flashy, the special effects so-so or better, and who knows where the story line is going, but so far, so good.

   Cleopatra 2525 appeared as the first part of the “Back2Back Action Hour,” followed by Jack of All Trades, starring Bruce Campbell. Thirty-minute live action TV series have been scarce for quite a while, but for some reason I don’t recall, they came into vogue again in the early 2000’s.

   In the year 2525 (based on the song, I assume), the human race has been driven underground in a series of caverns connected by huge shafts by monstrous machines called Baileys. Fighting these new overloads are Hel and Sarge, both female, joined by Cleopatra, an exotic dancer from our era who was put into suspended animation after breast augmentation surgery that went badly.

   Of course the women who star in this show wear skimpy clothing. There’s no denying that. That’s part of the appeal. But they are decent actors, and they look good flying through the shafts that connect one part of their underground living quarters to another. Cleopatra — very blonde — is a bit of a ditz, but that’s part of the design, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

   She’s still learning her way around in episode two, which also features Creegan, an evil scientist whom I assume will be the women’s main adversary through the rest of the series. Creegan may also be a mad scientist, since his clown makeup outdoes The Joker of Batman fame by a country mile.

   I probably won’t report back on future viewings, but so far the two 22 minute episodes I have seen (after the commercials have been deleted) have done their job and drawn me in very well.

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.

Next Page »