July 21, 2017

Around the dial

Martin Landau died this week; the Oscar-winner and co-star of Mission: Impossible played many a bad guy during his career, and certainly that must have influenced the way viewers saw him in M:I. His character, Rollin Hand, was an illusionist, a master of disguise, called in when the IMF needed to impersonate a key figure; but there was an underlying edge, a menace in the way Landau played him, that combined with his past roles* to make it quite believable that Rollin moonlighted as a spy. (Or was a spy moonlighting as an illusionist, one or the other.) In those episodes that didn't depend on his impersonations - I think of one in particular when he was filling in for Steven Hill, for reasons best explained elsewhere - he was convincing in a way that Barney or Willy might not have been, and of all the agents on Mission: Impossible, including Jim Phelps, Rollin was the one that I would least have wanted to meet in a dark alley, and the one I would have most wanted on my side. Though the series still had some fine seasons after Landau and his then-wife Barbara Bain left, it was never the same, and never as good.

As I mentioned on the Facebook page, Martin Landau was scheduled to appear at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September, and I was looking forward to being able to meet him. That won't happen now, but as is the case, we're consoled by the many terrific performances he left behind for us to appreciate. The Last Drive-In has a brief but very accurate tribute to Landau, "a truly great actor." Andrew at The Lucky Strike Papers recalls some of Landau's best performances.

*In much the same way Raymond Burr brought his past as a heavy to bear on his portrayal of Perry Mason. Particularly in the early seasons, it must have had the same kind of influence on viewers, convincing them that he wasn't kidding when he played hardball on behalf of his client. 

At Comfort TV, David continues his tour of the United States through television with two really good choices - Naked City to represent New York, and The Rifleman for New Mexico. I don't think I ever thought of New Mexico as Lucas McCain's home, but it works for me.

I don't think I've ever heard of the British detective series Hamish Macbeth, but if you're turning in expecting some kind of Scottish melodrama full of shadows and mystery, I'm afraid you'll probably be disappointed. Instead, as British TV Detectives points out, it's a solid series that probably isn't my cup of tea but likely appeals to a lot of viewers.

Staying on the Brit theme is Cult TV Blog's review of They Came from Somewhere Else, the sci-fi/horror parody that, as John points out, is "the true frontier of cult TV" as well as very much of an '80s series.

The FBI, as I've written before, is on our Sunday night viewing schedule, and last week featured the seventh-season episode "The Game of Terror," starring a sadistic Richard Thomas. The episode was directed by Ralph Senensky, who writes about this episode at his terrific website, a virtual history of television from the late '50s through the '80s. After you're done reading about "The Game of Terror," browse around the rest of the site - I can promise you'll still be there two hours later.

One of the reasons I'm drawn to Jack's Hitchcock Project summaries on bare-bones e-zine is that, as a writer, I'm fascinated by the process of adapting a novel or short story into a television script, where the challenge is either fleshing out the story or deciding how to make it fit. (I often wonder how someone might adapt The Collaborator for film or stage.) This week's piece is no exception: "Power of Attorney," the final James Bridges teleplay for Hitchcock.

Finally, at Taki's Mag, Gavin McInnes has a, shall we say, provocative article on the provocative story that a woman will be the next Doctor Who. Seeing as how the classic version of Doctor Who is on my Top Ten list, you may have been wondering if I was going to weigh in on this. Frankly, I have neither the heart nor the energy to do so, although that could change in the future. I'll say just two things about it: one, that I'm not a fan of Jodie Whittaker, the actress who'll be essaying the role, and since this is bound to taint my opinion, I'll just keep my mouth shut about it.

Second, I seriously question whether or not the canonical structure of Doctor Who (such as it is) allows for this kind of folderol in the first place. We know there are such things as female Time Lords (Time Ladies); witness Romanas I and II and the Rani, just for starters. During that time, there was never a suggestion that these characters had ever been anything other than female; at a minimum, therefore, what this new development suggests is that Time Lords are naturally androgynous, doesn't it? Oh, I suppose you could counter that the exterior trappings are of no importance when you're an alien with two hearts; perhaps they don't have the same male and female biological differences that we do. And if that's the case, then all you're dealing with is typical P.C. from the BBC. Otherwise, you're left with the conclusion that the show's producers want you to believe that there's no difference between male and female, that we're all polysexual - or is it pansexual? I admit, I can't keep up anymore - and that those who talk about gender fluidity have been right all along. And I'm sure the BBC doesn't mean to suggest that, do they? As one of their more famous characters might put it, "You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment." TV  


  1. Ralph Senensky directed, but did not write, THE FBI episode above. He was (and still may be) a director, mostly of tv. According to www.tv.com Robert Malcolm Young wrote this episode.

    1. I knew he directed - why did I say that he wrote it? Senior moment - fixed.


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