Random Musings: Enjoying the comedy of Bob Newhart


Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart

Depending on your age, your pop culture reference points and other factors, the name Bob Newhart may bring to mind the psychologist he played in The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978); the innkeeper trying to keep his sanity amid a plethora of eccentric neighbors in Newhart (1982-1990); his many stints as guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; his various film appearances or his recent recurring role as Sheldon and Leonard’s idol, Dr. Arthur Jeffries (AKA Professor Proton), on The Big Bang Theory.

But Newhart isn’t just an actor in films and TV sitcoms. He also released a number of comedy albums beginning in 1960. Many of his routines centered around one side of an anachronistic phone call.

In “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Ave.” (The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, 1960), an advertising executive is on the phone with Lincoln, trying to keep him “on message.”

“You changed four score and seven to eighty-seven?” the ad man asks. “Abe, that’s meant to be the grabber… Abe, do the piece the way Charlie wrote it, will you?”

Later, the ad man asks Lincoln to work Abe Lincoln T shirts into the address somehow.

Then, when the ad man says he can’t make a bridge party at the White House and learns no one else in Lincoln’s circle will be available either, he gives Lincoln a suggestion.

Why don’t you take in a play?”

A phone conversation between a game manufacturer and Abner Doubleday, the purported inventor of baseball, takes place in “Nobody will ever play baseball.”

The first question the man has is how many couples?

“Eighteen people?” the man asks. “That’s a hell of a lot of people. You can’t play it in the house, either?”

He tells Doubleday that already the game’s got problems, but agrees to listen. As he repeats how there are nine guys on each side, including a pitcher and a catcher who throw the ball back and forth, he asks about the guy with the stick who stands between them.

“He may or may not swing at it [the ball]. Depending on what? If it looked like it were a ‘ball’? What’s a ‘ball’, Mr. Doubleday?”

He then listens some more to the rules, including the number of strikes and balls (“Why four balls, Mr. Doubleday? Nobody’s ever asked you before?”) and whether a ball stays fair.

“Is this a rib?…Mr. Doubleday, that’s the most complicated game I’ve heard in my life.”

In “Introducing tobacco to civilization” (The Button Down Mind on TV, 1962), we hear a phone call between Sir Walter Raleigh and the head of West India Company.

“Did we get the what? The boatload of turkeys? They arrived fine, Walt… See that’s an American holiday, Walt.”

He then listens as Raleigh tells him about “another winner” called tobacco.

“What’s tobacco, Walt? Let me get this straight? You got 80 tons of leaves? This may come as a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England, we’re kind of up to our— it isn’t that kind of leaf?”

The man is then barely able to control his laughter as he repeats Raleigh’s description of what people do with this leaf.

Not all Newhart’s routines involve one-sided phone calls (though they do all involve one-sided conversations). In The Button Down Mind Strikes Back (1960), he gives us “a griper in Washington’s army” who couldn’t get to sleep.

“There was some nut flashing a light on and off in a church tower all night. And then when he quits, some drunk goes riding through the town, screaming.”

Some of Newhart’s routines deal with topical events (those about Khrushchev come to mind) and some reflect stereotypes of the time. One is “The Driving Instructor”, from his debut album. In this routine, which he presents as the pilot for a new TV series, he describes a driving instructor and a woman driver.

The routine would still have worked, verbatim, if he’d said “nervous driver.” In fact, the instructor even acknowledges that his student is nervous. Despite the chauvinism, it’s a funny bit.

“Defusing a bomb” (The Button Down Mind on TV), concerns an unexploded shell found on a beach. The police chief asks the patrolman who called to report it if he considers a shell on the beach unusual.

“Oh, that kind of shell?” the chief says. “I’ll send someone out in the morning…I was kind of hoping that was your watch making that noise, Willard.”

A moment later, the chief says he can’t leave the office and shouts into the phone that Willard not bring the shell back to the station.

“I’m taking just a big a chance as you are,” the chief says. “This is my responsibility. If that thing goes off, it’s me they’re going to want to talk to, not you.”

As for the phone calls, they weren’t all anachronistic. In “King Kong”, in The Windmills are weakening (1965), a new guard has started work at the Empire State Building the day King Kong climbs it. He contacts his boss, apologizing for calling him at home, and says he’s got a situation that isn’t in the employee manual.

“I looked in the index. Yes, sir. Apes and apes toes. Yes, sir.”

The guard reports that there’s an ape’s toe sticking through a window and that this isn’t the standard ape.

“He’s between 18 and 19 stories high,” the guard says. “Depending on whether there’s a 13th floor or not.”

The guard says he was going to take the elevator up to the ape’s head, but his jurisdiction only extends to the ape’s naval.

He also reports that the ape is carrying a woman, whom the guard is pretty certain doesn’t work in the building. Her negligee would suggest she’s not part of the cleaning crew.

Humor is subjective, but if you like “dry” humor, you’ll probably enjoy the comedy of Bob Newhart.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.




Random Musings: Traveling back in time for The Final Countdown


Final Countdown

In 1980, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz departs from Pearl Harbor under the command of Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). The ship is carrying efficiency expert Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an employee of Tideman Industries, sent to the Nimitz by the mysterious Richard Tideman, a man he’s never met. In fact, no one on Yelland’s crew has ever met Tideman, who helped design and build the Nimitz.

Lasky is introduced to Executive Officer Dan Thurman (Ron O’Neal) and assigned to quarters adjacent to Wing Commander Dick Owens (James Farentino). He gets off on the wrong foot with Owens by entering his cabin and reading his manuscript about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

He’d knocked on the door to say hello, found the cabin empty, noticed the manuscript and gotten curious.

The Nimitz encounters a strange electrical storm. When the skies clear again, the crew is unable to reach any familiar contacts by radio, but picks up an old Jack Benny broadcast.

The storm

The storm.

Yelland accepts Lasky’s word that this isn’t part of some test, but he also rejects the suggestion that a nuclear exchange has taken place.

The truth is even more surprising. Somehow, the storm has sent the Nimitz back in time.

To Dec. 6, 1941.

The Final Countdown is one of my favorite films. It’s one of those films I’ll sit down and watch if I come across it on TV.

But the plot makes absolutely no sense.

Spoilers follow:

Yelland decides to engage the Japanese fleet. The crew’s job is to defend the country, and that’s what they’ll do— even if it is decades in the past.

Discussing strategy

Discussing strategy.

But it’s not that simple. During a scouting mission, two jets from the Nimitz rescue survivors of a yacht attacked by a pair of Japanese Zeros and Owens brings them back to the ship. These are Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning); his secretary, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross) and her dog, Charlie.

Chapman and Scott

Chapman and Scott.

History records that Chapman disappeared and was presumed dead on Dec. 7, 1941. According to Owens’ manuscript, had Chapman lived, he would likely have been Roosevelt’s running mate in 1944 and subsequently become president in 1945.

Owens tells Lasky he recognized Chapman at once, but couldn’t very well toss him back into the sea.

Owens and Chapman

Owens and Chapman.

For his part, Chapman, co-chair of the Senate Defense Committee, is perplexed that such a ship should even exist. Yelland allows him to contact Pearl Harbor, but the Pearl Harbor radio operator dismisses him as a crank because there’s no record of either a USS Nimitz or a Captain Yelland.

Yelland tells Chapman he’ll have him and Scott flown to Pearl Harbor, but actually instructs Owens to drop them off, with suitable supplies, on a small island, well away from the Japanese attack.

When Chapman realizes he’s been tricked, he surreptitiously grabs a flare gun while Owens and Scott are on the beach. He commandeers the helicopter, which explodes a moment later during a struggle over the gun.

Meanwhile, just as the Nimitz is preparing to engage the Japanese fleet, the mysterious storm reappears and transports the ship back to 1980.

As Lasky disembarks, accompanied by Charlie, he’s told that Mr. and Mrs. Tideman would like him to join them. He steps into a limo and is greeted by an elderly Commander Richard T. Owens and Laurel Scott.

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman.

Roll credits.

Wait, so for all intents and purposes, the USS Nimitz went back in time to strand one guy in 1941, so he’d one day become the mysterious millionaire (or billionaire) who helped design the Nimitz? Wouldn’t it have been more efficient if the time storm had simply swept up Commander Owens when he was walking down the street?

Question: Did the Nimitz change history by being in 1941?

No. I believe that it was always part of events. It’s the only logical explanation why Laurel Scott is still alive in 1980, much less on Dec. 7, 1941.

There was never an “original history” in which Chapman was killed on the yacht. He’d always died in a struggle on board a helicopter he’d tried to commandeer. If he’d died on the yacht, Scott would have, too; it was far from land and there was no indication that she was an exceptionally strong swimmer. Only outside intervention could have saved either of them.

There was also no indication history was changed by her survival.

The strongest evidence that the Nimitz was part of events in 1941 is the fact that we “sort of” meet Tideman in the opening scene (he’s in silhouette inside a limo, watching Lasky’s departure).

It still leaves unanswered why the Nimitz went back to 1941, yet played no role in the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other than raising some interesting philosophical questions in a movie, there doesn’t seem to be any “in universe” rationale for the Nimitz to be part of those specific events.

There isn’t even the suggestion that fate decreed that the Nimitz should be on hand to ensure that Laurel Scott lived to old age because she had an important destiny to fulfill. That would have been more interesting than having the ship— essentially— serving as a time-traveling ferry service.

At least in the novelization by Martin Caidman, Tideman tells Lasky that Scott was the master of the power politics h’d played over the decades.

That’s the frustrating thing about the film. Nothing happens in the grand scheme of things. We don’t even know what led Owens to assume the name Richard Tideman. The name meant nothing special to him in 1980. Even if you assume Owens’ middle name was Tideman, what made him realize that he and the Richard Tideman were the same person?

Unfortunately the novelization doesn’t provide any answers.

There’s also a single word of dialogue I wish had been cut from the script. When Lasky and Charlie descend the gangplank, the dog runs to the limo. We hear a woman’s voice say, “Charlie.” That spoils the surprise regarding the occupants of the limo.

For all its flaws, The Final Countdown is an enjoyable film; but it might have been more interesting (and satisfying) to have followed the adventures of a time lost Commander Owens than those of an aircraft carrier that goes back to Dec. 7, 1941, only to return to its own time before it can engage the Japanese fleet.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.



Random Musings: Happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo

Aunt Jo

Josephine Degan at her older sister’s wedding in the 1920s and celebrating her 100th birthday in 2013.

Today, my Aunt Jo celebrates her 104th birthday.

Aunt Jo (technically, my great aunt) was born in Coatbridge, Scotland (the family had moved there from Ireland a few years earlier in search of work) and emigrated to the U.S. in 1924, with her mother and five of her siblings. She has lived in the same home, which she built, since 1949.

In a 2012 interview I did with her, Aunt Jo, the youngest in the family, said the crossing took seven days.

She had an orange for the first time on that trip.

“That was unusual, to have an orange,” she said.

When she finished school at eighth grade, Aunt Jo, like Grandma, became a comptometer operator in Detroit, starting around age 14. Comptometer school took about eight months, she said.

Later, she and her husband, Clayton, worked at her father-in-law’s business, Mt. Clemens Dairy, which had 23 milk routes, before it went into the production of ice cream when people stopped having milk delivered to their homes.

Aunt Jo, who goes by her middle name, said she did so for practical purposes.

“In Scotland, if you were Irish and Catholic, they didn’t want to employ you,” she said, adding that she went by “Josephine” on her mother’s advice.

She observed that while the “no Irish need apply” mentality existed in some parts of the U.S. in the early 20th century, it didn’t seem to be the case in Michigan.

As for childhood memories, she recalled that when the family lived in Corktown in Detroit, they would have parties on Saturday nights in which someone would play the piano while everyone danced. Sometimes the parties would go on so long, guests were told to just stay the night, go to mass with the family Sunday morning and then go home.

Aunt Jo had a big celebration for her 100th birthday. This year was more low key. When I talked to her this morning, she said she was just going out to dinner.

Probably saving her strength for the big 110th birthday bash.

Again, happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.


Random Musings: Adventuring with Rick Brant


Rocket's Shadow

In many ways, Rick Brant is your typical teenager, living with his parents, sister and dog.

In other ways, he’s far from typical. Rick doesn’t live in a city or suburb, but on Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey; his father is a famous scientist, whose work includes rocketry (and who leads a team of other scientists in a laboratory on the island) and Rick himself owns and flies a Piper Cub airplane.

And he gets himself involved in thrilling adventures.

Rick is the central character in the Rick Brant Electronic Adventure (changed to Science Adventure in later volumes and printings) series of 23 books published by Grosset & Dunlap between 1947 and 1968, with a 24th book released by another publisher in 1990. They were written by Harold L. Goodwin (with the first three books co-authored by Peter J. Harkins) under the pen name John Blaine.

I recently read the first three books, The Rocket’s Shadow; The Lost City and Sea Gold. The Rocket’s Shadow concerns the efforts of Dr. Harston Brant and his team to send a rocket to the Moon in order to earn a $2 million grant. However, the project has been plagued by “accidents” and outside interference.

Rick befriends an ex-Marine about his own age named Don “Scotty” Scott, who’d lied about his age when he’d enlisted. Dr. Brant invites the orphaned Scotty to live on Spindrift Island and hires him as a guard. Rick and Scotty investigate whether one of the scientists might be a saboteur.


Lost City

In The Lost City, Rick travels to Tibet by way of India with Scotty and two of the Spindrift Island scientists. There, they plan to communicate with Dr. Brant by bouncing their signal off the Moon.

But someone doesn’t want the mission to succeed and works to stop it by sabotage, theft and other means.

En route to their destination, the team stumbles upon the lost city. However, its inhabitants don’t welcome tourists.

Sea Gold

In Sea Gold, Rick and Scotty seek summer jobs at a sea mining plant in Crayville, Connecticut. However, not only do some of the local fishermen oppose the project, believing it will poison the waters, but someone specifically doesn’t want Rick working there.

I’m enjoying this series and look forward to reading more, when and if I get hold of them. These are well-written, engaging tales and they don’t stretch credulity, which isn’t always the case with “juvenile” adventure series books.

Yes, Rick owns his own plane, but it was established in The Rocket’s Shadow that he bought it by forming a company and selling shares to the scientists to raise the necessary funds. He pays them back by running errands for them and ferrying them around.

O.K., it may have been a stretch for Rick to go to Tibet with the two more experienced scientists, but Dr. and Mrs. Brant might also have felt it would have been a good life experience. And they had no reason to expect trouble.

Also, Rick, like many teenagers, was seeking a summer job when he got embroiled in the doings in and around Crayville.

I’ve owned these Rick Brant books for years, but only got around to reading them in recent days. Why now?

In large part because of a conversation at the Great Lakes Nostalgia Convention in Kalamazoo last month. That conversation concerned to what degree Jonny Quest is based on/influenced by Rick Brant. It gave me an excuse to read my Rick Brant books and to finally get around to buying the season one (1964-1965) Jonny Quest DVD box set.

While I haven’t finished watching Jonny Quest and have only read three Rick Brant books, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jonny Quest is only loosely inspired by Rick Brant, if at all.

Yes, both live on islands with scientist fathers, but Jonny’s island is somewhere off the coast of Florida, not New Jersey. What’s more, tidal flats separate Spindrift Island from the mainland; when the tide is low, you can walk from one to the other. I’ve yet to see a Jonny Quest episode that shows his island is in a similar location relative to the mainland.

Spindrift Island also contains a farm, run by another family “on shares”, as well as a large forest. Plus, a team of scientists works in the lab on the island. And, of course, Rick lives with his parents, his sister, Barby, Scotty and his dog, Dismal.

Spindrift Island

Jonny, for his part, has neither a mother nor a sister. He lives with his father, his tutor/bodyguard, Roger “Race” Bannon, his best friend, Hadji and his dog, Bandit. I’ve seen no indication that other people live on Jonny’s island, but maybe I’ve missed something.

Both Hadji and Rick’s friend Chahda are from India and came to the U.S. after helping their respective American friends. However, Hadji is a constant presence while Chahda only appears in the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth and fourteenth books in the series, based on what I’ve read online (he’s mentioned in Sea Gold).

Rick Brant also doesn’t have a character comparable to Race Bannon, who’s about the same age as Dr. Quest.

Plus, Jonny and Hadji are younger than the high school-age Rick and Scotty.

Jonny Quest is definitely an exciting series, but to what degree it’s a cousin to the Rick Brant books, I’ll leave to your own interpretation. I’ll call it a second cousin.

In fact, Jonny Quest probably owes as much— if not more— to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy as it does to Rick Brant. Martin Grams says as much here


and points out that the initial scenes from the Jonny Quest closing credits include clips from a five-minute Jack Armstrong pilot.

Martin, who brought up the Rick Brant/Jonny Quest parallels in Kalamazoo, also discusses Rick Brant in the above blog entry. However, if you plan to read the first three books, you might want to hold off on reading his blog until you do; he includes some spoilers.

Regardless of to what degree Rick Brant inspired Jonny Quest, if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And if you’re a fan of “juvenile” adventure books, Rick Brant deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: The Contender is a first-rate political thriller.



After the death of the vice president, Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) nominates Ohio Sen. Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to be the new V.P. in The Contender (2000).

Evans introduces Hanson

Evans introduces Hanson.

However, she faces anything but a smooth confirmation process. Illinois Rep. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman, who also produced the film), the Republican chair of the judiciary committee, would A) rather Evans nominate Virginia Gov. Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), considered a hero for his attempts to save a woman whose car went off a bridge; and B) is determined to sabotage Hanson’s nomination.

Initially, his motivations are primarily political. He considers Hanson, a former Republican and daughter of a former governor, a traitor for switching parties (Plus, he’s still smarting from having lost the election to Evans).



But then he receives material purportedly showing Hanson engaged in sexual escapades in college. He proceeds to drag her reputation through the mud by both direct and indirect means.

He feigns disgust that somebody would publish such “nefarious and sleazy innuendos” and “encourages” the American people to boycott the online report, yet spells out the URL of the website that released the information when he says he assumes she’ll take legal action.

Chief of Staff Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott) wants Hanson to do what’s in the best interest of the party.

“Why don’t you just deny it?” he asks at one point.

“It is simply beneath my dignity,” she replies.

Later, he presses her to just confess.

Hanson refuses to respond to the allegations, arguing— correctly— that not only is her past no one’s business, but that responding to the charges would suggest that it was acceptable for the questions to be asked in the first place.

“And it isn’t,” she tells Evans at one point.

As she tells Delaware Rep. Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) a freshman Democrat on the committee, “I can’t respond to the committee’s lightly veiled accusations because it’s not okay for them to be made.”

She also tells him that if she were a man, no one would care how many sexual partners she had in college; and that if it’s not relevant for a man, it’s not relevant for a woman.

She has several steps available to end this personal nightmare, but chooses to keep fighting.

“Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they’re inconvenient”, she says.

Runyon uses various means to drag Hanson’s reputation through the mud, yet had once done decent and honorable things.

“I was never prouder when you fought to make hate crimes a capital and federal offense,” his wife, Maggie (Irene Ziegler), says. “…And now, everything you’ve ever achieved will be eliminated because, with this horrible filth, you’ll go down as a second-rate Joe McCarthy.”

But just as Runyon was once a man of principles, Hanson has a major indiscretion in her past, unrelated to the accusations of her activities in college. One person affected by that indiscretion is unnecessarily subpoenaed to testify before an open session of the committee, when it could easily have deposed her behind closed doors.

For his part, Webster, who has ideological differences with Hanson, begins to have “buyer’s remorse” about what the committee is doing to her. At one point, he shares with her a document the committee received, telling her, “I beg you, senator, to deal with this.”

Evans, who’d previously met with Webster at the White House, sees potential in him.

“He’s misguided, but he’s got something,” he says to both Newman and Hanson.

Evans and Webster

Evans and Webster.

The Contender being a political thriller, there are a number of twists and turns. As it turns out, Laine Hanson’s past isn’t the only thing being investigated, and it’s not just her political future at stake.

In The Making of a Political Thriller, a DVD documentary about the film, Oldman said the quality of the writing appealed to him.

“It reminded me of a 70s script,” he said. “It has the flavor of All The President’s Men.”

Writer/Director Rod Lurie, who wrote the part of Laine Hanson specifically for Joan Allen, admitted in the same documentary to being a political film junkie, saying he was obsessed with films like All The President’s Men, The Candidate and The parallax View.

The Contender is a well-written political thriller, populated with three-dimensional characters. It’s well worth checking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Paying a visit to the Land of the Giants


Land of the Giants title card

On June 12, 1983, the suborbital passenger liner Spindrift set out for London from Los Angeles.

It never arrived.

Instead, the passengers and crew found themselves marooned in an alien— yet strangely familiar— world. Familiar, because this brave new world was much like late 1960s Earth.

Alien, because everything and everyone was 12 times as big as Earth normal.

Land of the Giants, which ran for two seasons from 1968-1970, was the last of the four Irwin Allen-produced TV series airing during the 1960s. It was also the closest (for the most part) to straight science fiction.

The Spindrift crashed in a wooded area of what would appear to be a state or county park. This is never stated in any of the episodes I’ve seen, but too many people come through the woods near the castaways’ makeshift campsite for it to be deep in the forest.

Plus, the “Little People” often make excursions into a local town. Given that they’re about six inches tall, comparatively speaking, and given how relatively quickly they’re able to get to town and back, it’s improbable that it could be any great distance.

In this over-sized world, Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway), co-pilot Dan Erickson (Don Marshall), flight attendant Betty Hamilton (Heather Young), and their passengers, businessman Mark Wilson (Don Matheson), jet-setter Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund), teenager Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim) and con man Alexander Fitzhugh (Kurt Kasznar), are hunted as enemy invaders by the Special Investigation Department (SID), an elite police force. Their primary adversary within the SID is Inspector Dobbs Kobick (Kevin Hagen).

Inspector Kobick

Inspector Kobick (center) confronts Fitzhugh, Valerie and Mark.

What would cause the giants (or at least the government of that particular country) to view the little people as dangerous enemy aliens?

Paranoia, presumably. It was stated outright in several episodes that Earth technology was about 50 years ahead of that of the giants.

Which raises the question: Why didn’t the show establish that the Spindrift made its ill-fated flight in 2018, given that the world of the giants resembled that of then-contemporary 1968? After all, the action takes place on the giants’ planet, not Earth. So it’s not like they had to guess what 2018 would be like.

Or, for that matter, why not just say Earth technology is 15 years ahead, given the 1983 departure date on Earth and the obvious late 1960s setting of the giants planet?

At any rate, in addition to threats from the natural world (they are in the woods, after all) and giants who seek to capture them for the reward Kobick offers, the Spindrift passengers and crew also have to contend with occasional internecine conflicts. The often abrasive Mark challenged Steve’s decisions on more than one occasion; the impetuous Valerie, something of a spoiled brat, would blithely ignore instructions in favor of doing whatever she wanted (which got her and Steve captured in the first episode), and would also sometimes goad Mark into his battles with Steve; while Fitzhugh’s tendency toward cowardice and greed would cause other problems.

Steve and Valerie captured

Steve and Valerie captured.

I should note, for the record, that Fitzhugh was not a retread of Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. In terms of characterization, he was slightly closer to the dangerous, conniving saboteur Smith from the early Lost in Space episodes (he was on the run with stolen money) than to the later avaricious and cowardly, “oh, the pain” incarnation of Smith. Like Smith, Fitzhugh would rather rest than work, but unlike Smith, he’d pitch in with a minimum of fuss.

Dan often served as the mediator when tensions mounted; as did Betty, to some degree. Frankly, she was pretty much a cipher, by comparison to the other characters

Barry, accompanied by his dog, chipper, often hung out with Fitzhugh.

I’d first heard of Land of the Giants as a kid, through a library book about science fiction TV shows (and later found two tie-in novels by Murray Leinster at a used bookstore), but didn’t actually see it until very recently. For whatever reason, it wasn’t rerun in my area when I was growing up.

It’s a show my younger self would liked to have seen. Around the time I was 11, I saw and enjoyed the films Dr. Cyclops and The Incredible Shrinking Man, as well as the Saturday morning TV series Dr. Shrinker. Land of the Giants offered similar fare.

How does it stand up when viewed through adult eyes?

Pretty well. With the caveat that I’ve yet to see all the episodes. I’ve read that later season two episodes eschewed science fiction for the more fantasy-oriented stories often seen on Lost in Space.

O.K., technically, Land of the Giants is fantasy, given that there’s no scientific explanation how the giants and the Earth people can communicate in normal tones of voice (among other physics challenges), but the characters lived in a recognizable, if over-sized world. Unlike Lost in Space’s many improbabilities, Land of the Giants required viewers to accept only one: That humans and giants could interact without any particular difficulty. If you accept that premise, everything else falls into place.

Land of the Giants can currently be seen on METV and on Hulu. There’s also an overpriced DVD box set, released a decade ago. It’s a fun show, worth checking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: “The Power of the Daleks”, a key part of Doctor Who history


Power of the Daleks

In November 1966, during the fourth season of the original run of Doctor Who, the BBC aired “The Power of the Daleks.” This episode did more than bring back those popular villainous antagonists, last seen in late 1965/early 1966; it gave us Daleks who were cunning and devious, rather than direct about their intentions. In this story, a Dalek proclaims, “I am your servant” rather than the usual “hello” of “Exterminate.”

Discovered in an ancient space capsule that had crashed on the Earth colony planet of Vulcan (no, not that Vulcan), the Daleks are revived by an ambitious scientist named Lesterson (Robert James), who convinces the governor (Peter Bathurst) that these self-proclaimed servants can be useful in the colony’s mining operations. All these “servants” need to fulfill their duties are access to power supplies and some technology.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, argues a new arrival to Vulcan, a man carrying the credentials of the Earth examiner and calling himself the Doctor. He offers no proof to substantiate his warnings about these “Daleks”, and his own companions, Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze), seem uneasy around him.

Encountering the Daleks

The Doctor introduces Polly and Ben to the Daleks.

Amid all this, a group of rebels is active within the colony and a killer— the murderer of the real examiner— lurks somewhere about. The killer also knows that should the real examiner’s body be found, the Doctor would be the prime suspect.

In addition to presenting viewers with “friendly” Daleks, a murder mystery and political intrigue, “The Power of the Daleks” also gave them another twist— a new Doctor. “The Power of the Daleks” was Doctor Who’s first post-regeneration story (though the term “regeneration” wouldn’t be used for several more years). It marked the debut of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, taking over for the ailing William Hartnell.

In later years regeneration would become an established part of the program, but in 1966 replacing the popular Hartnell was a risk. Keep in mind, also, that viewers still knew almost nothing about the Doctor at this point. The terms “Time Lords” and “Gallifrey” wouldn’t even be coined until 1969 and 1974, respectively, and there had been no on screen evidence that the Doctor wasn’t a human being. There was nothing to suggest the Doctor could change his appearance, but the production team decided to make that risky move.

“What a reckless and brilliant piece of television inventiveness that was,” current producer Steven Moffat said about the Doctor’s first regeneration in the 2013 documentary The Doctors revisited: The Second Doctor. “It would have been so easy, if you think about it, for them [the producers] to say ‘his face will change slightly. We’ll put another bloke in a white wig and we’ll have explained his slightly different features and he’ll carry on playing it roughly the same way.’ They didn’t do that at all. And I still don’t know how they came to this conclusion and how they knew it would work to say ‘we’ll make him completely different.’”

Moffat is right. It would have been more “sensible” to replace Hartnell with an actor who looked somewhat like him and keep on going (and maybe future generations would have made comparisons with Darrin Stevens), but the producers avoided the “safe” choice.

In interviews, Troughton said he was initially reluctant to accept the part, believing Doctor Who wouldn’t last more than six weeks with him. He was wrong, of course, but it might only have lasted that long with a Hartnell look-alike.

It certainly wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has. “The Power of the Daleks” didn’t just introduce Patrick Troughton as the Doctor; it introduced Doctor Who as the series is presently understood.

“I think Patrick Troughton created the Doctor as he is now,” David Tennant (the 10th Doctor) said in that same documentary. “William Hartnell created something that was unique and brilliant, but actually, the Doctor we recognize today is much more Patrick Troughton’s Doctor… If Patrick Troughton hadn’t done what he did so confidently and with such charm and so brilliantly, then I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

The Hartnell era gave us the Doctor, the TARDIS and travels through time and space with companions. Every other significant aspect of Doctor Who can be traced— directly or indirectly— to Troughton.

A few years ago, Doctor Who Magazine featured a debate regarding whether Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker was more influential. When you think about it, the obvious answer is Troughton. Yes, Baker, who played the part for seven years (the longest on-screen tenure), brought Doctor Who into the U.S. market (through PBS), but if Troughton hadn’t succeeded in making the part his own, Doctor Who might have been a little-remembered television curiosity.

Despite its historic significance, “The Power of the Daleks” was once only available for viewing by those who happened to have access to a time machine. It only aired once and was one of the many programs the BBC wiped from its videotape archives in the early 1970s.

Fortunately, the audio survives. That, along with images from the broadcast, allowed a team of animators to revive this 50-year-old classic on DVD.

“The Power of the Daleks” is a worthwhile addition to your video library; not just because of its historic significance, but also because it’s an engaging story of mystery and suspense.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.