Space 1999 - The Dorcons

These days we’re used to the `season finale` in which various plots merge together and its all very dramatic. Back in the 70s tv wasn’t really like that- the only people who had conversations about story arcs were tv producers. Most episodic tv was made to be shown in any order so that whatever the peril everyone was fine by the end of the episode in time for some bantz and a jokey freeze frame. It does become a bit of a problem with a series like this. Consider- the half Moon has been juddering about the Galaxy now for 2,409 days according to the opening voiceover. In all that time and given all the adventures we’ve seen the place still looks spotless (we never see a cleaner), all the damage is repaired (where do they get the spare wall sections?) and the uniforms remain pristine (we never know where the laundry is). More importantly the psychological status of all concerned seems to be no more stressed than after a full day at the office. Sure someone occasionally has a meltdown (as happens in this episode) but it never lasts and only serves a plot point. It reminds me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode where someone changed into a different life form but three days later they were fine and back on duty! Really? So as we reach the end of our lunar trek it seems appropriate to point out how much better a series this would have been had the strains taken their toll both on the structures and the personnel. I’d love to have seen a stretch of corridor with a patchwork repair noticeable on it. Or some people no longer in uniform. Or Helena perhaps engaging in some counselling that involves talking about mental health rather than using some medical device that heals instantly. The aesthetic of the series is too clean in every respect.



Top of the Pops 13 March 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby [20] The Blow Monkeys: Digging Your Scene. “Good evening and welcome to this week's Top of the Pops,” at number twenty The Blow Monkeys Digging Your Scene.”FORMAT CHANGE KLAXON! We cut straight to The Blow Monkeys, with Mike Smith in voice-over, instead of the usual Quantel blur from the titles to the two Top of the Pops hosts. This is week two of the All-New Top of the Pops Show which is drip feeding its format tweeks rather than dropping them on the audience in one go. Michael Hurll was presumably afraid of the Max Headroom-style blipvert spontaneous combustion which would result from too concentrated a burst of Pop Power. Michael Hurll? Yes, the King o'er the water has returned after leaving Brian Whitehouse in charge for, ooh ages*. In actual fact he returned last week and I didn't notice, much to my embarrassment.
Michael Grade's big BBC1 relaunch is now just over one year old. Top of the Pops has settled at 7pm between the Regional News Magazines and Eastenders, and someone has suggested a few nips and tucks to keep Top of the Pops looking fresh in the second half of the eighties. Just to keep track, the changes so far are; daft new Top 40 Countdown format; only two breakers instead of three; closing the programme with a video instead of the audience dancing; and now a cut straight into the first song. It's a minor change but it works because it suggests a greater focus on music. Ironically the only thing these format tweeks can do is hint at change, because ultimately Top of the Pops is wedded to the hosts introducing studio performances and videos. It can't shift back to being exclusively studio performances because the audience also wants to see videos, but it also can't shift to just showing videos because they're promotional material and 30 minutes of videos would be too commercial for the BBC's remit.



Space 1999 - The Immunity Syndrome

An unexpected late gem, the series’ penultimate episode packs action and intrigue into a familiar sort of scenario and has the air of a Star Trek episode in a good way not just because it duplicates a title from the other series. Exploring a new planet (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous episode’s planet) initial findings of a safe atmosphere and bountiful produce soon start to go awry. First, Tony is attacked by a crew member who has seen some sort of powerful light before he himself is affected and goes rogue. As he is chased down, two other crew die after drinking water, another after tasting fruit. Then when an Eagle attempts to take the injured Tony back, all its metal parts begin to corrode causing a forced crash landing back on the hostile planet from which there seems no escape.



Midsomer Murders - The Sting of Death review

 “Bees have human souls” intones Ambrose Doddington in this delightfully batty season 22 opener. It’s a much delayed premiere in the UK as the episode was shot two years ago and first shown elsewhere in late 2019. Quite why ITV have held onto it this long is a mystery that John Barnaby should perhaps investigate but at least the channel have given it a decent Sunday 8pm slot. We’re in the village of Granville Norton one of those very Midsomer places filled with suspicion and eccentric behaviour. Barnaby and Winter are initially called in when Doddington’s beloved beehives are ransacked and some of their inhabitants stolen but soon there is a local victim who appears to have been stung to death. It is fair to say that if you do not much care for bees this is not the episode for you especially that first death which must rank as one of the more gruesome in the show’s canon of murders. What makes the episode work so well is the cast who appear to be engaged in something of a melodrama competition with highly entertaining results.



Top of the Pops 6 March 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Well. Hey! How ya doin? Welcome to Top of the Pops, we've got a brilliant show lined up for you and a slightly different show than normal. In actual fact more hits than ever before.” (John- Citation needed)
Dixie Peach: “And we're going to start off with some great music tonight. Mike Rutherford and the Mechanics, number 25, Silent Running.”
[25] Mike & The Mechanics: Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground). Let's pause for a moment to consider Gary Davies’ pastel yellow sweatshirt on which someone has scrawled “Hey! How ya doin'” in large letters. It's not clear if this is something sent in by a fan (the letters have the look of something coloured by hand) or purchased from a boutique. It's horrible on its own terms but Gary Davies has also tucked it into his trousers. The monster. First up tonight is another song for the I-recognise-it-but-I-couldn't-name-the-artist pile; there will be another one later.
It's also one of those songs where I've never bothered to listen to the lyrics. Oh yes, I know the chorus but have you listened to the bits in between? It's the kind of stuff I imagine US militiamen whisper round campfires -all about hiding the children in the cellar, getting a gun and ammunition, and how our sons and daughters will rise up.
The video is endearingly bonkers. There's a kid with a key and he goes in a room containing a glowing science-fiction cube; that contains a hologram of Mike (presumably). At the end the kid's mother sneaks into the room to see her son teleported into space while she shrieks in horror. (John- To be fair this did often happen in the Eighties.)



Space 1999 - Dorzak & Devil's Planet

The most remarkable thing about this episode is that Martin Landau is not in it. Perhaps he read the script? His absence is one of the factors contributing towards this being a somewhat soporific affair which only flares into life occasionally. A large spaceship transmitting the universal plague signal (how do the Alphans find out about these things?) turns up with an injured crew member whose assailant is allegedly a Psychon called Dorzak. Maya knows him and claims he’s a peaceable chap but the leader of the arrivals, Sahala, disagrees. She hates Psychons so much that the first thing she does when she sees Maya is shoot her with a staser sending her into suspended animation. The narrative revolves around who is telling the truth- is it demure Sahala with her tale of a dangerous criminal? Or is it the eventually revived Dorzak? And does the viewer really care? Alan Carter does. He falls for Sahala creating more potential tension but it is all played out too timidly. 

 "You made me get out of bed for this episode?"


Top of the Pops 27 Feb 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. The observant among you might be wondering why the last write-up confidentially asserted that it covered 13 & 26 Feb 1986.... I don't know. Maybe I was thinking of a different year.
Paul Jordan: “Hello and welcome. A couple of guys up on stage that's me and him, lots of people milling around having a great time, and the music which makes today's hits. It's got to be... are you listening Steve?” Steve Wright: “Top of the Pops!! Hope you're going to enjoy the show tonight!! We've got a good one for you!! This could be number one next week!! Here's Sigue Sigue Sputnik!!”

[7] Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Love Missile F1-11. This is Paul Jordan's last Top of the Pops, so it's also your last chance to say “who?” when his caption comes up at the start. Trying to wring any behind the scenes meaning from these repeats is like using the flight of birds to forecast the weather. However, I notice Paul Jordan hosts three of the first nine Top of the Pops of 1986; which is comparable to Janice Long and Steve Wright, and more than Mike Smith and Mike Read who were all over BBC1 and Radio 1 at the time.  It's possible Paul Jordan's contractual obligation number of shows are being whisked through as quickly as possible, but it's equally possible that he was always intended as a temporary host and he's standing in for people who can't make it; Peter Powell and Bruno Brookes have not yet made an appearance this year, and John Peel takes a mysterious two month break from hosting duties during February and March.


Sigue Sigue Sputnik- Yes everyone was dressed like this in 1986.


Space 1999 - The Lambda Factor & The Seance Spectre

The Lambda Factor
In the Seventies Terrance Dicks was known as a Doctor Who script editor and writer and here he brings his accomplished storytelling credentials to Space 1999 with mostly successful results. Using only the regular sets with events taking place solely inside the base, Dicks employs his fastidious skills to mould a story that is different to many of the regular episodes. While there is a threat outside- in the slightly unimpressive form of a spinning wheel on the screen- it is inside where he makes a virtue out of existing resources. He did this with Doctor Who, penning `Horror of Fang Rock` set entirely in and around a lighthouse. Here, the death of a technician from what seems like internal pressure is the most serious of several incidents that occur when our rotating space phenomenon is in the vicinity. People are getting tetchy, instruments are malfunctioning and yet another nuclear powered device nearly blows itself up. 



Top of the Pops 13 & 26 Feb 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. 13/02/86
Steve Wright: “Hi!! Hello!! Good evening!! Welcome to another Top of the Pops!! Gary Davies!! Steve Wright!!” Gary Davies: “In the studio tonight we've got Billy Ocean, we've got Shaky Stevens*, plus we've got two acts making their debut on Top of the Pops tonight. Here's the first Belouis Some, Imagination.”

[22] Belouis Some: Imagination. I remember the song but Belouis Some has fallen right down the old memory hole. If you'd played this to me and demanded I name the singer I would have taken a very incorrect guess at ABC. Belouis Some (which it turns out is actually his real name) (Fact John- Actually his real name is Neville Keighley, true fact.) looks very 1986 with his bleached blonde hair and striking jacket. He's wearing almost the same ensemble as Gary Davies, most notably a long red jacket, but he pulls it off better than Gary because his jacket has been properly tailored to fit. Gary Davies has chosen one that smothers him, and once again he manages to look like a tiny child dressed in his dad's clothes for a joke photo.



The Owners

Adapted from a French graphic novel called Une Nuit de Pleine Lune (A Full Moon Night), The Owners is a crisp, compact and often tense film lasting less than ninety minutes without one minute of filler. In the Nineties four young people’s idea of ransacking the large country home of an elderly couple for rumoured hidden riches turns into a nightmare from which they may not escape alive!