Dr. Who: Shada, Part 3

At the end of Part 2, Cambridge University science student Claire Keighley accidentally brought Professor Chronitis back from the dead by discovering and activating the controls for the Tardis that is his room at St. Cedd’s College.

Once he’s explained that much to her–not that she understands Chronotis alive againeverything he’s saying about their present state of timelessness, he tells her:

“We must find Skagra. He has the book.”

Fortunately, Claire does know about the book, so this part isn’t completely bewildering to her. Chronotis continues to explain the situation:

Shada is the Time Lord’s prison planet, but they are conditioned to forget about it–which was why the Doctor couldn’t remember its name when he was talking about Salyavin earlier, but he knew what the name meant when he heard the professor’s dying words.

The book is the literally the key to Shada. It’s what you use to access it.

If Skagra is working with mind transference, says the professor, then he can only be going to Shada for one reason. The prisoner he wants is that Salyavin we’ve already heard about. He must be stopped.

Chronotis then boosts Claire’s intellect by entering her mind and “rearranging things,” as she later describes it, so she knows enough to help him get out of this timeless state and go after Skagra.

Over on his magnificent cartoon command ship, Skagra is explaining this to Romana. As they’re talking, he realizes that the Gallifreyan code the book is written in would have to have reference to Time, and he goes looking back through the Doctor’s memories for his last mention of Time.

Command ship

At last, he breaks the code. Time runs backwards for the book, and the Tardis is of use in unwinding it. Continue reading “Dr. Who: Shada, Part 3”

Dr. Who: Shada, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, the Doctor was attempting to crawl under a chain-link fence to try to escape a floating silver sphere intent on sucking all the information out of his brain.

Doctor rescuedFortunately, he’s rescued by Romana, who shows up in the Tardis just in time. The Doctor scrambles up off the ground and into the Tardis (catching the end of his scarf in the door) before the sphere reaches him.

This was the other scene reused in The Five Doctors, with the floating sphere effect taken out. I always wondered why the Doctor was lying down in an alleyway.

Cambridge physics student Chris Parsons has undergone some experiences in the last few hours that have totally changed his understanding of the universe. First, that strange book he borrowed from Professor Chronotis  appeared be of extraterrestrial origin. Then, he had a look around inside the Tardis, met K9, and has learned that the now-dead professor was alien and isn’t the only person from another planet hanging around Earth. He’s in for a few more surprises before the day is out.

While Romana pops out to get the Doctor, Chris remains sitting with the dead professor, who vanishes before his eyes. When the Tardis comes back, he explains what happened; the Doctor says that Chronotis must have been on his last regeneration.

Chris and Romana tell the Doctor about Chronotis’s last words: Beware the sphere. Beware Skagra. Beware Shada. The secret is in the …

The Doctor knows what Shada means and vows to get Skagra, who has just killed a very old and dear friend. Tom Baker’s Doctor tends to be flippant about whatever happens to him, especially during the latter years of his run, but for once he seems actually angry and bent on vengeance.

They all get into the Tardis to find Skagra.

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Dr. Who: Shada, Part 1

Not so much a lost episode of Doctor Who, as an unfinished one. Near the end of Tom Baker’s sixth series as the Doctor, all BBC productions were pretty much shut down due to a technicians’ strike. Work on this episode had gotten only as far as filming the exterior scenes in and around Cambridge, and a day or two of videotaping on sets in the studio before everything stopped.

By the time the strike had ended, too much time had passed to resume it and the episode was scrapped. For years, all of it that could be seen by the viewing public were a couple of filmed fragments recycled and repurposed for The Five Doctors (which I intend to review some time soon). That was all I’d ever seen of it.

Written by Douglas Adams and part of what was considered one of the best eras of Doctor Who, it quickly passed quickly into the legendary realm of lost TV treasures.

Invisible spaceship

Other recreations have been attempted over the years, but at last in 2017, someone took the trouble to piece the filmed segments together, and fill in the sections that were never done with animation. The surviving actors returned to do voice-work for their characters, and there’s a nice surprise at the very end that they certainly wouldn’t have been able to do in 1978.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Welcome to my childhood nightmare.

Goblins behind books

I first saw this 1973 made-for-TV movie when I was 9, and it haunted me for years. I had nightmares related to it as late as 17, even after I’d seen the movie again and was old enough to realize that its special effects were on the cheap side.

Even now, as a grown-up who’s seen it multiple times, something of that childhood fear still lingers in the back of my mind, impossible to shake. Just last year, when I pulled open an access panel in the wall for one my house utilities and gazed down into the black space between the walls, I couldn’t help thinking, “I hope there aren’t any little goblins living down in there.”

I’ve been considering on and off for years acquiring this movie on DVD and reviewing it; when I was purchasing Trilogy of Terror recently and Amazon thought I might like this too, I finally took the plunge. And here we are.

The movie starts with a hissing black cat, who has nothing to do with the story and will never be seen again. Over a shot of a large and handsome old Victorian house looking spooky in the night-time, we hear a number of creepy whispered voices having a conversation. The one who answers the others’ questions appears to be in charge:

“Will she come?”

“Do you think she’ll come?”

“She will. You know she will.”

“But when? When?”

“Very soon. It’s just a matter of time, of waiting for awhile. All we have to do is bide our time. Bide our time.”

“But it’s been so long. So many years. We wish she’d come and set us free. Set us free.”

“Patience, please. Patience. We’ve all the time in the world. All the time in the world.”

“In the world! All the time, to set us free in the world!”

Then they all laugh in a diabolical kind of way.

Continue reading “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

Trilogy of Terror

In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Waiting for MomJack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper–who were changing American film during that era, as well as established film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. She’d won two Golden Globe awards, and would be nominated for another. She had also received one Oscar nomination and was even up for a shared Grammy for her song work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

But when her name comes up among people of my generation, the words that we automatically associate with it are “Zuni fetish doll.”

No one who saw this 1975 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, when they were a child has ever forgotten the final segment.

While I can’t call the first two segments of this trilogy terrifying, I do think they’ve been unjustly disregarded. Along with the third segment, they provide Black with a rare opportunity for a young actress to showcase her talent by playing 4-to-6 different characters (depending on how you want to count them), from meek to menacing. One might assume that she chose this TV movie as a vanity project, but she always said that, when it was first offered to her, she didn’t want to do it.

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Kolchak: The Energy Eater

Matchemonedo In spite of the not terribly descriptive title, this is an episode I’m fond of. It features one of those extremely low-budget invisible monsters–but it’s a interesting invisible monster, when the viewer does sort of see it.

The episode begins with Carl Kolchak writing, and narrating, from a hospital bed, about the  construction of Chicago’s new Lakefront Hospital. The dedication ceremony to open the place officially and show off the up-to-date medical equipment was a major press event, but once we go to flashback we see that Carl attends only grudgingly. This isn’t the kind of news story he’s interested in.

He rejects the standard press packet–and is very condescending to the young woman who offers it to him (“That’s very good. You remembered that all by yourself?”)–and gets sulky when he misses the opportunity to get a drink before the hospital administrators make their speeches.

Then the lights flicker; that rouses Carl’s curiosity. The building is brand new, so why is it having electrical problems already?

Unbeknownst to Carl (at that time, but since it features in his voice-over narrative, we can be sure that he learned all about it later), a man has just been electrocuted in the basement. There’s some sort of tremor that cracks the walls, and a high-voltage breaker panel behind him explodes in a shower of sparks.

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Kolchak: The Spanish Moss Murders

Many years ago, a friend and I were driving to Atlanta for a library conference; our route took us across the northeastern corner of Alabama during a moonlit night. When we stopped for gas, she excitedly pointed out some nearby trees draped with what looked like straggling clumps of green-gray yarn that someone had attempted to knit into scarves then tossed over the branches when the results turned out badly, but were actually the outgrowths of a parasitical plant.

Kolchak and some Spanish Moss “Look,” she said, “it’s that stuff you see growing on trees in movies about the South.”

That stuff would be Spanish moss, and it does look rather spooky in the right kind of dramatic light even on a tree… and even more so when it’s all over Richard Kiel.

The Spanish Moss Murders sounds like the title for an Ellery Queen mystery novel, but it happens to be one of the best Kolchak episodes. It’s got a lot of humor, featuring a number of interesting and amusing characters in small roles, plus a monster that isn’t one of the commonplace vampires or werewolves.

This monster is a fabled creature from the swamps of Louisiana, used by generations of parents to frighten children into behaving themselves (although I can’t confirm whether or not it’s actually based on Cajun legends or if it was made up just for this show.) It’s brought into existence by remarkable means, through a combination of scientific research, the need to dream,  and the dark world of childhood fears that lurk in the recesses of our minds even after we’re grown up.

“The visions and nightmares of childhood,” Carl Kolchak tells us in his opening narration, “are the most terrifying any human being can imagine.”

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Kolchak: Two episodes

The Devil’s Platform

Devil doggie. Are the fangs fake?“Palmer is evil incarnate! He’s going to go all the way to the White House, to the Oval Office!”

Not one of my favorites, but I suppose it was inevitable in the immediate post-Watergate era.

In brief, a Chicago politician (Tom Skerrit) has sold his soul to the Devil. (I know, I know — Just the one?) To facilitate his meteoric rise from obscurity to the Senate, and perhaps beyond, Bob Palmer gets rid of all who oppose him by killing them off in horrific and somewhat flamboyant ways. Occasionally, he accomplishes these matters personally in the form of a big woofums doggie, which is kind of cute when it’s not snarling ferociously.

Carl Kolchak gets in Palmer’s way while waiting for an elevator at a high-rise building. The elevator is coming down much too fast, since Palmer and his about-to-be-late campaign manager are inside, along with a number of other unfortunate people. Carl hears their screams as the elevator drops and, after it crashes into the basement, rushes downstairs to get a photo.

In addition to all the now-dead people in the elevator, there is also the doggie wearing a pentagram on a chain around its neck. No sign of Palmer. As the dog leaps past Carl, the chain catches on his coat sleeve and he winds up in possession of the pentagram–and pursued by the dog.

When Palmer’s opponent for the Senate dies in a car crash that evening, it occurs to Carl that there’ve been a lot of weird deaths surrounding Palmer’s campaign. Then he notices a photograph of Palmer wearing the same pentagram.

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Kolchak: Firefall

I’ve always been fond of this episode, in spite of its flaws. It shows a certain originality in merging the phenomena of spontaneous human combustion with the ages-old myths and legends of the double spirit, fetch, or doppelganger; the only similar supernatural story I’ve seen occurred in the Dark Shadows Phoenix plotline. I  mentioned this episode when I reviewed that and wondered if both might’ve been written by the same person (they weren’t).

Crossing the hearseIt’s a bad idea to cut off a hearse en route to a funeral. That’s the lesson famed Chicago Symphony conductor Ryder Bond (Fred Beir) will learn after he does precisely this to avoid being late for a rehearsal at the very beginning of the episode. The spirit of the deceased man, a convicted arsonist and cheap hood with thwarted musical ambitions by the name of Frankie Markoff, decides that the life Bond is living is much better than the one he recently departed from in a hail of mob bullets. He sets about taking over Bond’s life.

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DVD Review: The Legend of Lizzie Borden

LizzieLizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her father 40 whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
Gave her mother 41.

Now that that’s out of the way, I must point out that most of the details in this famous poem are wrong.

Abby Borden was killed at least an hour before her husband, not long after 9:30 on the morning of August 4, 1892; she was last seen alive going up to the guest room of her home in Fall River, Massachusetts, to put fresh pillowcases on the bed. Her husband Andrew was murdered around 11:00 that same morning. Although both were struck multiple times with an axe or hatchet, the number of blows in each case was much less than 40/1.

And even though general opinion over the last century is that Lizzie Borden is the most likely person to have killed her stepmother and father, she was acquitted at her trial.

The Legend of Lizzie Borden was a made-for-TV movie that first aired ABC early in 1975 as a vehicle for Elizabeth Montgomery. In the years following Bewitched, Montgomery chose to play a series of serious and critically acclaimed roles in controversial dramas–in this case, America’s most well-known probable axe murderer.*

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