Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Mattel Edition)


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Corgi Edition)


Comic-Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Gold Key)


Coloring Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Colorforms


Board Game of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Milton Bradley)



Lunch Box of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "That Which Survives" (January 24, 1969)


Stardate: Unknown

The U.S.S. Enterprise investigates a strange “ghost planet” which possesses unusual geological properties.

After Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley), Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Lt. D’Amato (Arthur Batanides) beam down to the planet’s surface, a devastating earthquake strikes.

At the same time, the Enterprise is hurled 990.7 light years away, with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in command.

Behind the unusual mystery is a lovely siren, Losira (Lee Meriwether), a woman whose touch can kill.

Losira is able to appear both on the distant Enterprise, and the planet surface, and she brings death to Enterprise crew at both locations.

While Spock and Scotty (James Doohan) struggle to get the Enterprise back to the planet with all due haste, Kirk and his party struggle to survive Losira’s murder attempts. 

As Kirk soon learns, Losira is a Kalandan, or a more accurately, a simulation of a long-dead Kalandan commander; one programmed by a computer to protect this distant, long-forgotten outpost of the Empire. Her people died out after creating an artificial planet, one that gave rise to a terrible disease



“That Which Survives,” like “Plato’s Stepchildren,” seemed to be on near constant-rotation on WPIX, Channel 11 out of New York City, in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was first becoming acquainted with the series as a young man. 

I remember one occasion when the station actually aired "That Which Survives" two Saturdays in a row, in a 6:00 pm time slot. I was not a happy camper. I wanted to see different Trek episodes; not the same episode twice in two weeks.

Still, “That Which Survives” isn’t a terrible episode by any means, though nor is it often considered a great one. Overall, it’s a solid entry in the third season, for certain, and one buttressed by some fine qualities, notably a guest cast that sees the return of Booker Bradshaw’s Dr. M’Benga, and the introduction of memorable characters played by Arthur Batanides, Naomi Pollock and, of course, Lee Meriwether.


The episode is cast perfectly, and there is some considerable suspense in the last act (with Sulu injured, and the Enterprise on the verge of destruction.)


Also, “That Which Survives” features some remarkable special effects, particularly Losira’s unusual de-materialization process.  The character seems to flatten out, and contract "down" into a line, before vanishing all-together.

I also appreciate the purple color palette of the episode, seen in Losira’s wardrobe and the alien planet's sky/horizon. If one thinks of the color purple representing mystery, or, possibly ambition, the color scheme fits in thematically with a story of a “ghost” alien race that engineered its own destruction.


But I suppose I enjoy the episode “That Which Survives” in particular for how it fits in with the Trek chronology or history, at least on a speculative level.

In broad strokes, I see the development of the human race as one of technological thresholds/challenges that are met, and overcome. We develop fire. We develop gunpowder. We develop nukes. We develop FTL drives.

And then?

We develop the ability to create and recreate planets.  

In “Return to Tomorrow,” for example, Sargon spoke of a crisis in his civilization beyond the nuclear age. I wonder if this mysterious crisis involved technology akin to what we encounter here, in “That Which Survives,” among the Kalandans. These aliens created, essentially, a world; but the creation of that world saw the rise of a disease that killed him.

We know that Starfleet faces similar challenges in the Genesis incident of the movies, striving for the ability to create a planet, but seeing unintended side effects caused by proto-matter.

Does this mean that Starfleet and the Federation have passed the threshold that felled the Kalandans and Sargon’s people?

If so, I wonder what the next challenge is…

Clearly, not all humanoid civilizations survive each of the thresholds I named above. We come back to, again and again in Star Trek, a race between technological development and human development. 

If technology changes or advances too fast, humankind might destroy itself.

Losira is a fascinating personification of this very struggle.


In real life, she was an ethical, stable, responsible commander who safeguarded her people. Losira clearly took her duties and responsibilities seriously.

Her computer avatar -- designed, apparently to recapture something of her personality -- is, by contrast, programmed to murder.  Clearly, the “human” part of that program feels regret, guilt, and shame at her actions.  Kirk is able to exploit this part of the program to survive as long as he can.

Thus Losira is a representation of dangerous technology at the same time her “human” qualities endure, and carry meaning and fight for supremacy with "the machine."  She “survives” beyond technology, in a sense, even if her world, and people do not do so.  


“That Which Survives” may not fare better in the memory, or among fans, simply because it doesn’t feature any “trademarks” we associate with Star Trek. There are no Klingons and no creatures, so-to-speak. Plus, Kirk and Spock spend the majority of the episode far apart from one another, unable to interact meaningfully. 

On the Enterprise, however, Spock gets some great, deadpan funny lines, and on the planet, Kirk is the strong leader and curious explorer we root for. Scotty comes across powerfully in this episode too, which adds to the subtext about human and technological development.  

Scotty, who is as human as they come, is also "in synch" with the technology he loves: the Enterprise's engines.

In the final analysis, "That Which Survives" "endures. This is a solid show, even if it is not a beloved one.

Next week: “The Lights of Zetar.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tell Me Your Favorite/Best Star Trek Episode Choices!



Hi everybody,

Star Trek's (1966-1969) 51st anniversary (September 8) is just a little less than a month away, and as readers here know, I have been working since 2016 to review every episode of the original series as part of the half-century celebration. 

I am deep in a retrospective of the third season at this point, and anticipate being done with the series reviews by mid-October (just in time to celebrate TNG's 30th anniversary!)

But to celebrate Star Trek's anniversary this year, I am asking for your help and participation.  


If you are interested in joining the fun, I will post your top twenty episode choices here on the blog the week of 9/4 - 9/8/17.

The rules are simple:

I need to know your name to put on the post header. (Like, John Muir's Top 20 Star Trek episodes).

Then just rank your favorite or "best" 20 Star Trek episodes (ascending order, 20 - 1). No movies. No animated episodes. No spin-off episodes. Just the original series, please.

And then, the icing on the cake: write an explanation (as short as one sentence, or as long as you desire), explaining the reasons behind your choice.

Send me your top/favorite list by Wednesday 8/30/17, so I can start putting the following week together here on the blog!


I have spent a lot of time writing about Star Trek since 2016, and now I want to know more about what you think, and share your favorites with the rest of the readership.  

So please, join me!

Also, a final note: as I contribute my own list, I see that many of my choices go against conventional wisdom, or tradition.  


So please, feel no responsibility  or obligation to make your list conform with previous fan lists, or conventional likes. Tell the world what you like! 

Your reasons can be about nostalgia, quality, continuity, humor...anything that floats your boat. 

Send your top 20 Star Trek episodes list to: Muirbusiness@yahoo.com.  

I'll post reader lists in the order I receive them! (But start getting them to me as soon as you can, and no later than August 30th, please.).

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Jekyll and Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson's 1866 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the key foundations or texts of the modern horror genre. The story concerns the duality of human nature, according to some, as the respectable Jekyll becomes the dark brutal Mr. Hyde.  

Others scholars the work as a study of how the unconscious mind can manifest its darkest desires; creating a personality of its own in the process.

The Jekyll-Hyde story is irresistible for cult-TV programming for a few reasons.  First, it exposes the under-side or dark-side of regular characters. 

On a more practical level, the Jekyll/Hyde duality allows a series actor to show a dark, violent side with no need for guest casting.  So the actor gets to show his or her chops, and at little expense to the production.


One of the most famous Jekyll-Hyde stories in cult-TV history comes from Star Trek (1966-1969). Here, in the episode "The Enemy Within," a transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into two distinct personalities. One is good; the other is evil.  Although the evil Captain Kirk is a temper-prone, alcohol-guzzling rapist, it is also discovered in the course of the episode that his "dark" qualities help Kirk be the remarkable leader that he is.


Kenneth Johnson's The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) is a series-long paean to the Jekyll/Hyde duality. 

Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) must rigorously control his anger and rage, lest the monster from the Id -- the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) -- manifest. The series examines, in many ways, how human beings must control their emotions, or see a dark side emerge.


The "Jekyll/Hyde" being has also been a monster-of-the-week on many occasions. In Filmation's Saturday Morning TV series, The Ghost Busters (1975), the ghosts of Jekyll and Hyde manifest in a local grave yard. Here Jekyll (Severn Darden) is a gentleman, but Hyde is a cave-man, even down to his wardrobe of furs.  He is not evil so much as he is primitive, which is an interesting take on this duality.


In the TV series Man from Atlantis (1977), Mark Harris's (Patrick Duffy) superior -- C.W. (Alan Fudge) --  accidentally spills a strange formula in his morning coffee, and turns into a hairy brute, a Mr. Hyde-type creature.  

Almost immediately, he steals money, jeopardizes the institute, and comes on to a gangster boss’s lovely girlfriend. After Mark and Elizabeth (Belinda J. Montgomery) contend with an underwater probe that has been programmed to self-destruct, they must extricate C.W. from the mess he has made for himself.  Here, the Mr. Hyde being gives C.W. the confidence that he doesn't typically manifest.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) offers a female spin on the classic story. In this tale, Buck (Gil Gerard) -- in "Cruise Ship to the Stars" -- must protect the genetically perfect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy Stratten) from a pair of thieves, unaware that one of his opponents is a dangerous “transmute.” Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).  Here, the Hyde character is associated with material avarice and human vice.


Other cult-TV series, such as Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), have featured the good doctor -- and his alter ego -- adapting the characters and situations of the novella to a serialized format.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "The Enemy Within."

Identified by Hugh: Rod Serling's Night Gallery.

Identified by Hugh: The Ghost Busters (Filmation)



Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Planet of Evil."

Identified by Hugh: Man from Atlantis: "C.W. Hyde."


Identified by Hugh: Space:1999.


Identified by Hugh: The Incredible Hulk

Identified by Hugh: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "Cruise Ship to the Stars."

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Voyager.

Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Identified by Chris G: Smallville.

Identified by Hugh: Jekyll and Hyde. 

Identified by Hugh: Do No Harm.

Identified by Hugh: Penny Dreadful

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "Omega" (October 9, 1976)



“Omega” is one of those more-interesting-than-usual installments of the 1970s Filmation Saturday morning series Ark II.  

The reason that this episode is more intriguing than most segments is that it -- like “Robot” or “The Lottery” -- features a specific science fiction concept other than just the one featured in the premise; that of a post-apocalyptic world.  In this case, that concept is a villainous, sentient super-computer, a Colossus for the Saturday morning set. 

Here, the Ark II team runs afoul of perhaps the most powerful nemesis it has yet grappled with: a super computer “built by a society that no longer exists.”  The super computer -- re-activated in a primitive village three weeks earlier -- is called a “checkpoint” device, model “Omega.”  And, in addition to its other functions, the machine can easily dominate and control human minds.  Visually, Omega resembles the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).


As the episode begins, a kindly grandfather (played by Harry Townes), realizes that his daughter Diana, portrayed by a very young Helen Hunt, is now under the control of Omega.  Thus, Jonah and his team set out to de-activate the machine and free her from machine enslavement.  Unfortunately, Omega proves so powerful that Samuel begins to fall prey to its commands too.  He rejects Jonah as leader and serves Omega instead.

Jonah attempts to defeat the super computer by executing a series of “chess” moves designed to destroy the device.  Finally, even that strategy isn’t enough, and Jonah himself nearly succumbs to the machine’s wishes.  Finally, it is Adam the chimpanzee – whom Omega has derided as some kind of strange animal – who is able to pull Omega’s plug.


After the computer is defeated, Jonah notes that Omega will never again be able to impose “de-humanizing ideas” upon mankind.  Specifically, he’s referring to the idea that Omega has made all the elders of the local village the slave to youngsters, like Diana.  As Omega reports early on, “young minds are quicker” to accept him.

I enjoyed this episode of Ark II, because drama works better, in my opinion, when heroes are outmatched or over-matched by villains. And that’s the case here. The high-tech Ark II crew is nearly defeated by the high-tech machine.  Omega thus proves a powerful and insidious force and infuses the episode with a welcome sense of menace.  I also enjoyed seeing Harry Townes play a crucial role here -- as a fearful would-be-slave of a super computer -- since he played a similar character in Star Trek’s “Return of the Archons” back in the mid-1960s.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "If I Had the Wings of a Bugaloo (October 17, 1970)


In “If I Had the Wings of a Bugaloo,” Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) becomes obsessed with the act that the Bugaloos possess wings, and can fly.

She hires Funky Rat’s sister, Brumhilda, to make her bat wings, but they fail to give the diva the lift she wants.  She realizes that she must steal the wings of a bugaloo if she wishes to fly.

Benita goes to Tranquility Forest, pretending to be Heddy Ho-Down, and tricks I.Q. (John McIndoe) into coming with her back Uptown to her jukebox.  The other Bugaloos attempt to rescue him, but are trapped in Fly Paper!


The Bugaloos (1970-1971) crosses a threshold this week that Lidsville (1971-1972) also crossed at about the same point during its run. Specifically, the villain here officially becomes the most intriguing personality on the series, and the most-utilized character too.

Here, Martha Raye’s Benita Bizarre motivates all the action, and appears in virtually every scene. The Bugaloos are a practical after-thought, appearing only for the routine (and weekly) capture/rescue business.

What’s intriguing about Benita is that she is not an out-and-out monster, like Witchiepoo or Hoo-Doo. Instead, she’s a (fairly-typical) “D” list celebrity. She’s self-obsessed, narcissistic, and a bit pathetic. She’s a diva, a Norma Desmond-type, who cares only about her own self-glorification.  This week, she motivates the action because she wants wings, and wants to fly.

That desire just hits her, and because she is rich, and infamous, ostensibly -- and surrounded by yes-men -- she tries to get them.

In this way, The Bugaloos is actually about something more than bug-people on a sub-textual level: the quest for continuing fame, and the way that some people can’t let it go. Last week, I mentioned Sunset Boulevard (1950), and yes, The Bugaloos is a Saturday morning version of that story, as seen through the unique eyes of Sid and Marty Krofft.

This week, however, Benita goes from being merely misguided and narcissistic to monstrous, as she tries to cut off I.Q.’s wings, an act which can’t be undone.

The scene of surgery is actually fairly gruesome. I.Q. lays stomach down on a table, wriggling to break free from restraints, while Funky Rat reads from an instruction manual (Do It Yourself Surgery) and takes a giant clipper to the Bugaloo.  Fortunately, the surgery is never completed.

This week, there are two songs to make note of. Benita -- as Heddy-Ho-Down -- sings one for I.Q. before capturing him.

And The Bugaloos sing about “friends…if you need someone to help you…”



Next week: “Lady, You Don’t Look Eighty.”

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens: "Escape to Paradise" (1976)



I have selected, for my next Thursday afternoon cult-TV series retrospective a production from one of the less-visited halls of the Valhalla: Star Maidens (1976).

I selected this obscure, thirteen episode series from the disco decade for a few reasons.  

In the first case, I remember watching it on WNEW Channel 5, out of New York, when it originally aired in American syndication. I was six years old at the time, and the series had the look and feel of a state-of-the-art sci-fi series.

Secondly, Star Maidens is (weirdly) related to Space: 1999 (1975-1977), one of my all-time favorite space programs. Star Maidens was designed by Keith Wilson, the genius production designer for the Andersons’ series, and so shares in common a kind of post-2001/pre-Star Wars visual aura.



Similarly, the sound effects on this series are also, largely, ported over from Space: 1999, which was between seasons when Star Maidens was produced at Bray Studios in 1975. Even key performers on Star Maidens -- Judy Geeson and Liz Harrow -- are recognizable from Space: 1999 episodes (“Another Time, Another Place,” and “The Testament of Arkadia,” respectively).

Surprisingly, the premise of Star Maidens has some touches in common with Space: 1999. The central planet in the series, Medusa, is one torn out of its orbit (by a comet named Dionysus), and sent hurtling on an interstellar voyage, like the Earth’s moon in the Landau/Bain series. 


As the series begins, however, Medusa reaches Earth. (So it’s like Space: 1999, but with the rogue space body traveling in the opposite direction.).

Star Maidens is a British/German co-production created by Eric Paice, based on a premise from Jost Graf Von Hardenburg. This short-lived series made the war between sexes its central dramatic issue.  Specifically, Medusa is a female-run planet (one set off its path by a comet named after a male, incidentally), wherein men are second-class citizens. 

The context for such a plot-line is clearly the late-1960's and early 1970’s second-wave feminism in the UK and the USA. For instance, From 1970 to 1978, the National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in England. And the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was re-introduced in 1971, and sent to the states for ratification in 1972. By 1979, the necessary number of states had failed to ratify the amendment.

What is Star Maidens’ point of view on this war of sexes?

I intend to examine it closely in the coming 12 weeks, but I believe the series makes a satirical point about sexism.

It is utterly ridiculous to American, male ears, to hear women discussing how men are too fragile, too childish, to fly space yachts, or do other high level activities.

That’s the point.

When the “tables are turned” – and men are the victims of sexism -- we are able to fully detect how foolish the sexism towards women actually is.  

It’s silly.  

Star Maidens has been described as camp in some circles, in large part because the blatantly sexist dialogue (against men) borders on outright comedic, yet is spoken with straight facet/tone.  Intriguingly, the same jaundiced dialogue, when spoken of women (in series such as Star Trek, for example) is accepted at face value, and not considered funny.

So Star Maidens, it seems to me -- at least at this early juncture -- is all about exposing a ridiculous double standard.


The first episode of Star Maidens, “Escape to Paradise,” written by Eric Paice (Target Luna [1960], Pathfinders in Space [1960]), and directed by James Gatward, sets up the series’ premise via a school-girl’s “historical program.”

This voice over-narration explains the "golden years" of history on the distant planet Medusa. There, in "Proxima Centauri," the planet developed a peaceful, advanced, art-centric culture wherein women were the unquestioned rulers (and thinkers...) and servile, lowly men functioned as "domestics" or servants.

Then, however, the comet called Dionysus swung too close to Medusa and pulled the planet out of her natural orbit. Consequently, the "vast mass" of Medusa was "dragged" into the "frozen infinity of space." 

The surface of the planet grew uninhabitable as it turned to ice (read: frigid), and the survivors of the disaster moved into underground cities, where the female-dominated culture continued and solidified power due to the crisis. Medusa drifted through space for generations until it arrived here...in Earth’s solar system.

What did the Medusans find on Earth? Well, if you ask the female scientists of that world, only a "great disappointment." Because, "in violation of all common sense," men ruled the planet Earth. Accordingly, this backward planet was judged "out of bounds" for all "civilized" space travelers. It is described in the narration as “disease prone,” for instance.

After this exposition/history lesson, “Escape to Paradise” introduces two male slaves, Shem (Gareth Thomas of Blake's 7) and Adam (Pierre Brice), who are planning an escape from the female-managed Medusa.

Adam

Shem

They are tired of being taken for granted. ("Who looks after the kids?" one man asks, citing his importance in Medusa's social strata.) 

However, before Shem and Adam can escape Medusa in Counselor Fulvia's (Judy Geeson) space yacht, Medusa's secretive and hostile-to-men head of security, Octavia (Christiane Kruger) gets a disturbing prediction from the Destiny Computer (think the Oracle at Delphi).

The computer suggests that the illegal men's liberation movement is about to begin again, and that one such insurgent will be Fulvia's domestic: Adam.

Octavia

Fulvi

Adam and Shem barely escape Medusa in the space yacht. Fulvia and Octavia pursue in their spaceship.




But where are Adam and Shem off to? A "paradise," of course, where men rule over women. In other words, the planet Earth.  Specifically, Adam anticipates “a new life, freedom…submissive women.”

"Escape to Paradise" concludes with Shem and Adam crashing their ship on Earth. ("It's too difficult for a man!" cries Shem, worrying over his landing vectors...).  

Meanwhile, on Earth, scientists from the Institute for Radio Astronomy -- Liz (Lisa Harrow), Rudi (Christian Quadflieg) and Professor Evans (Derek Farr)  prepare to meet the extra-terrestrials, 



"Was life really so bad on Medusa?" asks Counselor Fulvia of her escaped domestic, Adam, during a point of high tension in this episode.

That's a loaded question, I suppose. On one hand, the security forces of Medusa are all Amazonian women who wear skimpy two-piece uniforms (exposing bare midriff and muscular abs). 


On the other hand, the sexy women really do lord it over the men. It's all "prepare me something to eat," or "prepare my hypno-mat" (meaning bed...).

Of course, the women also demand sexual service. "Kiss me," Fulvia orders Adam at one point.

This, I admit, is a bit tricky. 

One wonders, during the flirtatious aspects of the episode, if the series is discussing sexism, or reveling in male fantasies about domination by strong, demanding, gorgeous women.

Despite any tongue-in-cheek tone here, the first 30-minute episode of Star Maidens flashes by at warp speed, and proves both entertaining and provocative. 

The production values are remarkable for 1970’s British science fiction, the actors are pretty good, and we get enough glimpses of the Medusan culture (technology and setting...) to get a sense of the alien-ness of the planet. 

Also, despite the war of the sexes premise, it seems that, at least so far, the series attempts to contend with some nuances. 

Judy Geeon's Fulvia, for instance, thinks the best of her rebellious slave, Adam, despite his insurrectionist actions. She may command in a female dominated society, but she has affection, even love, for her “domestic.”  

And Shem’s lack of confidence -- in direct contradiction to his apparent abilities with machines and ships -- can be traced back as a direct result of his indoctrination into Medusan politics.“It’s a woman’s world,” he declares, not so much with defeat, but as a statement of fact. Shem has heard all his life that he, as a man, can never be the equal of a woman, and it’s clear that he has internalized that message and made it a part of himself.  This strikes me as a very realistic character touch

Star Maidens is a strange show. 

It boasts the look, feel, and sound of a 70’s state of the art epic, like Space: 1999, and yet its obsession is not the stars, but the mysteries of human behavior and belief systems. It should be fascinating journey to watch where this series heads, as it explores the clash of a female dominated world, and a male dominated one.


Next week, “Nemesis.”