Skip to main content

Stand back, or you will affect the cards!


Doctor Who
The Smugglers: Episode Three


Hartnell’s on towering form in this episode. There’s no sign of an actor being forced to leave a role because he’s no longer up to the challenge. Of course there are fluffs, just as there have been throughout his era, but mostly there’s a sense of an actor having a blast with a script that allows him to have a lot of fun.


The focal scene for this is his fortune-telling with Kewper, observed by a gullible Jamaica. It has to be said that surviving footage of Elroy Josephs suggests an actor essaying a wide-eyed stereotype. About Time snidely remarks that the first speaking part for a black actor in the series was a sure sign that Hartnell was on the way out. Yeah, that must be right, because Billy vetoed any non-Caucasian casting.


The Doctor takes command amusingly (“Stand back, or you will affect the cards!”) and his reading of the five cards picks out the main antagonists (well, pretty much... ) in the story. He has the measure of Kewper (the Jack of Clubs, which elicits an “I am no knave, sir”) and identifies Cherub (the Jack of Spades) and death itself, Captain Pike (the Ace of Spaces). I wasn’t sure who the King of Spades (“The king, the blackest villain of all” was supposed to be, unless by implication it is the Squire as a representative?) but I like the idea that Jack of Diamonds, whom the Doctor professes not to be able to identify, is the Doctor (“he will triumph in the end”). And his brushing off of the suggestion that the fortune telling was a trick “This is no time for idle speculation”) is a delight. It’s just a shame that something as uninventive as a bash on the head puts Jamaica out of action.


The plot machinations are edging up a gear, with Ben and Polly allying themselves with Blake (not very sensible of the Squire to release them into the custody of the man who suspects him). They have already decided that the Doctor is one in a million; Polly comments that he was jolly crafty at getting himself out of trouble with the war machines. 


And the hilarious pay off is Billy revealing himself at the door with a “Yes, and why not here my dear?” He was probably listening to them bigging him up for a couple of minutes. This sort of use of the Doctor is admittedly made even broader when Troughton comes on the scene, but there’s a definite bridging between actors in the playful use of the character at this point in the series. He takes genuine delight in his chance to interact with and outwit those he encounters.

But we also see him declare his “moral obligation” to save the village from Pike, rather than flee to the TARDIS. Again, it’s Polly who readily sides with the Doctor and Ben who is more reluctant.

Ben: A right couple of nutcases you two are. All right, I’ll try anything once.
Doctor: Well said, my boy.


Pike’s punishment of dopey Jamaica for letting the prisoners escape is on the harsh side, stabbing him and then wiping off his hook (another surviving snippet). He also calls him a “black-souled scum” which is rather unfortunate.  He can’t find Cherub, and asks “Where in Satan’s name is he?” which is quite strong language (I’m not sure anyone said,“Oh my God!” at any point in the original series).

The realisation that the words uttered to the Doctor in the first episode are names on tombs in the crypt may not be the most startling of plot developments, but it makes for an enjoyable scene, with Billy in fluff mode and Ben cracking up at the inscription on a tomb.

Ben: Henry Hawkswood, he did die, of drinking too much small beer, when he was dry.


The game of double-crosses is being laid out, with the Squire and Kewper (who has told the former about Pike) planning to be ready for him when they rendezvous, makes Episode Three probably the strongest of the four plot-wise.

The Squire is also revealed to have no appetite for mindless violence, marking him out as less villainous than either Pike’s entourage or his own minion Kewper. Who gets a knife in the back from Cherub at the cliffhanger; there’s no direct threat to the main trio there, although it does give Polly the opportunity to have a scream.


A splendid episode for Hartnell, and eventfully plotted. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

The world is a dangerous place, Elliot, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on, and do nothing.

Mr. Robot Season One
(SPOILERS) With all the accolades proclaiming Mr. Robot the best new show of the year, the tale of a self-styled “vigilante hacker by night and regular cyber security worker by day”, intent on bringing down E/Evil Corp, the largest conglomerate in the world (as opposed to multinational Comcast, the 2014 “worst company in America” which owns the USA Network, home of Mr. Robot), I expected something a little more substantial than a refitted Fight Club, “refreshed” with trendy (well, a few years old) references to Occupy, Anonymous/hacking incidents and a melange of pop cultural signposts from the last fifteen years. There are times when the show feels entirely suffused with its abundant derivations, rather than developing into its own thing, its lead character’s pervasive alienation a direct substitute for Edward Norton’s Narrator. And yet, it has a lot going for it, and the season concludes at a point (creator Sam Esmail’s end of first act) where it has the potential…