Westworld '82

Westworld ’82

Previously on the Retroist, we’ve explored the barely-even-a-guilty pleasure status of the obscure and quickly-canned 1980 TV spinoff of Westworld, Beyond Westworld.

Of course, if you’ve watched HBO’s recent (and, it has to be said, much better than Beyond Westworld) reboot of Westworld as a high-profile series, you already know that the things you thought were happening concurrently are not happening concurrently; the chronological sequence of events is not what you thought it was going in.

What if TV history was like that, too? What if HBO’s Westworld series had been made in the 1980s? While the mind boggles at the wildly different standards of what levels of language (“this is the new world, and you can do whatever the heck you want!”) and nudity would’ve been permissible, YouTube user MessyPandas can already show you what the opening titles would’ve looked like, complete with a drum-machine-drenched synth-pop rendition of Ramin Djawadi’s pleasant but slightly unnerving theme music…

The authenticity of it is such that you can easily imagine having changed channels during the end credits of Automan to catch Westworld.

In this alternate timeline, I’d imagine that HBO’s Westworld still gets a huge audience, and reruns are still on the schedule when Game Of Thrones debuts in the 1990s…

…which, if it wasn’t on HBO, seems like it’d be in syndication on your local indie station (or maybe your UPN station – you do still have one of those in your timeline, right?), wedged in between Highlander: The Series and Renegade.

Alas, we now deposit you back into reality…but the good news is, you can still rewatch Westworld until the second season lands in 2018.

Beyond Westworld: A Show With Everything But Yul Brynner

October brings us many TV delights this year, not least of which is the reinvention of Westworld as a lavish HBO series with a star-studded cast. But what many have forgotten is that this isn’t Westworld’s first visit to the small screen.
Westworld Flyer - Plcary

In 1973, the movie Westworld made a splash on the big screen, the first feature film both written and directed by Michael Crichton, who had gotten his first behind-the-camera experience on a TV movie in 1972. With MGM offering Crichton considerable creative freedom, he wove the story of Delos, a desert vacation paradise of an unspecified future, reachable only by hovercraft, where customers could shell out a thousand bucks a day to live out their fantasies in one of Delos’ three robot-populated environments: Roman World, Medieval World, and Western World. Naturally, the movie’s two male leads – square-jawed James Brolin and future Quark star Richard Benjamin in an unusual dramatic role – choose to spend time in the lawless old west. All non-vacationers in all of Delos’ fantasylands are robots which can be interacted with, seduced, abused, or even killed; the robots are then taken underground for repairs and redeployed for the next round of paying customers…until they mysteriously begin revolting.

Westworld was a wonderfully self-contained story which didn’t exactly demand a follow-up, and yet it got not one, but two. Languishing in development hell at MGM for years, the movie sequel Futureworld eventually saw the light of day – with a completely different cast and from a completely different studio – in 1976, with its only real connecting tissue being Delos (which now had a fourth attraction, Future World) and an utterly bizarre cameo appearance by Yul Brynner’s robot gunslinger. Despite starring Peter Fonda, Futureworld was a slow-paced movie about the makers of Delos’ robots “cloning” existing humans and replacing them.
futureworld-blu-ray

And insult wasn’t done being added to injury: MGM decided to adapt Westworld into a television series, and successfully pitched it at CBS as a mid-season replacement to air in the spring 1980 TV season. The plot involved characters never before mentioned in the Westworld movies: Delos’ security chief, John Moore (Jim McMullan), is called into action…
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when it is discovered that Quaid, the unhinged reclusive genius who created the Westworld robots, intends to use those robots to take over the world.
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The series visited Westworld just once, in its pilot episode, and then proceeded to live up to the “Beyond Westworld” name by never going back there again. (The TV series also turns Delos into a powerful but secretive corporation with nearly-infinite government security clearance; the movie Delos, the vacation paradise, is mentioned no further. Guess they diversified.)
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The trouble with Beyond Westworld, recently released on manufacture-on-demand DVD from the MGM vaults, is that it tried to trade on the name and concept and reputation of a movie that was nearly seven years in the past, and managed to fluff even that task. The series’ leads are wooden – the only standout is a pre-Greatest-American-Hero Connie Sellecca, added to the cast after the pilot – and the plots make little sense. In the pilot, Quaid’s plan for world domination is to have a robot infiltrate a Navy nuclear submarine to gain control of its nuclear missiles. Within a couple of weeks, Quaid’s using his robots to con oil tycoons and try to win the Daytona 500…a strange way to go about holding the world hostage to his every whim.

The show’s male lead is frequently so lifeless that you can instantly tell which guest actor is playing a robot, because that’s the one showing personality in the scene. There are a handful of interesting guest starring roles – Cassandra Petersen before she was Elvira, a glum-looking, post-Gilligan’s-Island Russell Johnson, Rene Auberjonois (before Benson) as a long-haired rock star, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it George Takei cameo.
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No amount of star power could put Beyond Westworld beyond the reach of cancellation, however: after airing the pilot and two hour-long episodes, CBS pulled the plug on Delos’ robots, and even Quaid couldn’t stop them. And thus ended any attempt to bring Westworld to TV – until now. The TV series simply couldn’t distinguish itself from other superhero/action fare on network TV; other CBS shows such as The Incredible Hulk were superior offerings, and spot-the-robot stories had been done better by The Bionic Woman’s numerous run-ins with fembots. Two episodes remained unaired, so the DVD features a total of five hour-long episodes.
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Come to think of it, even Crichton’s original formulation of the story raised questions it seemed unprepared to answer. Did the robots rise up and claim independence from their human masters, or were they hit by a computer virus? What did the Delos vacationers’ treatment of their robot servants/playthings say about society? Even the movie that started it all skipped around these big questions…or intended to leave them lingering, unanswered, in the audience’s mind.

HBO’s reboot of the property has an opportunity to explore these issues in more depth, along with issues that didn’t even exist at the time that Crichton’s original was first threaded through a movie projector.

And if nothing else, 1980’s Beyond Westworld is a pretty good blueprint of what the new show should avoid doing: endless find-the-robot-among-the-guest-stars plots with no bearing whatsoever on the visit-the-old-west premise that originally intrigued the audience.

[Via] j people mover

About Earl Green


Earl Green has been the head writer and podcast host at the Log Book.Com since 1989, when the Earth’s crust was still cooling and dinosaurs could be heard plaintively baying for the blood of small mammals in the distant background of the pre-internet age. He has worked in his fair share of TV newsrooms (for real), and has since gone on to write two gigantic Doctor Who guidebooks, VWORP!1 and VWORP!2, and a more recent book about being geeky and daddy at the same time, Fatherhood, Fandom, and Fading Out. He’s also written for The Retroist, All Game Guide, and Classic Gamer Magazine, and hosts three podcasts: theLogBook.com’s Escape Pod (a daily dose of geeky history), Select Game (covering the Odyssey2 video game system), and In The Grand Theme Of Things (grouping movie, TV and game soundtracks together by topic). He is writing this bio from underneath a pile of cats. Please. Send help.

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised, Tonight At 8/7 Central

It seems almost quaint now, the idea of the live broadcast of a disaster, or even the end of the world, would be a televised novelty. Between the 1980s and early ’90s, several made-for-TV movies aped the style and format of newscasts, paid a little homage to Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, and invented disasters to cover.

Bulletin - Da Bomb
1983’s NBC movie Special Bulletin led the way, as a fringe nuclear disarmament group (themselves heavily armed) rented a tugboat, loaded it down with a nuclear bomb, and docked it at Charleston, South Carolina, demanding a live network news feed from a fictional TV news network to spread their anti-nuke message. Their bargaining chip? If they don’t get to talk to the entire country on TV, they’ll kill the network’s news crew, which just happened to be there recording an unrelated news package. The fictional “RBS” network gives in to these demands, and we’re treated to two hours of this would-be terrorist/activist cell falling apart from the inside: dissent, fear, conspiracy-theorist zeal, and wide-eyed mental instability are displayed by varying members of the group, as the news anchors at RBS’ national headquarters second-guess and psychoanalyze them while the clock ticks down to the annihilation of Charleston.

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In 1984, HBO took things into darkly prophetic territory with Countdown To Looking Glass, predicting that World War III – between the United States and Soviet Union – would begin with an exchange of nuclear arms over an oil supertanker blockade in the Persian Gulf. With Canadian news anchor Patrick Watson playing the part of an American news anchor who one strongly suspects is Patrick Watson in every way but name, the world goes to hell over the course of two hours that chronicle nine days’ worth of events, including a well-meaning White House staffer’s leak of information that could have prevented the war…if only that information had made it to the airwaves more than once before being pulled by the bosses at the fictional “CVN” news network (a made-up equivalent of CNN). Public figures such as Newt Gingrich and Eric Sevareid appear as themselves, showing up to comment from Washington. Almost a decade before the Persian Gulf War, this movie predicted the tone and feel of live coverage from the Middle East to a frighteningly accurate degree.

Each time one of these movies would air, there would inevitably be complaints from worried viewers. Never mind that HBO doesn’t cover news (or even have a news department); never mind that no one had ever heard of “RBS” or “CVN” prior to these broadcasts – people who tuned in unaware that they were seeing a movie were upset. NBC took great pains to ensure that audiences knew Special Bulletin was fiction, while HBO’s movie featured cutaways to events “off the air” that were shot on film in traditional TV movie style.

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In both cases, people were taken in. The “faux newscast” concept fell out of favor for quite a while, and then the Cold War fell by the wayside. It would take something quite inventive to bring this genre back, because if the nukes weren’t going to kill us all, what would?

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But you can always invent a new Armageddon. On October 30th, 1994, CBS aired the TV movie Without Warning, chronicling strangely coincidental simultaneous meteor strikes on Earth which proved to be the harbingers of something much more terrifying. By mixing real TV news personalities such as Sander Vanocur and Bree Walker with the obligatory “celebrity interviews” with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, and familiar actors as reporters throughout (including the very recognizable John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame), Without Warning made one fatal error that got CBS in hot water: it never made up a fictional TV network, and used CBS’ existing news graphics, which had the effort of making it look like a very real CBS News broadcast. Even though both the network and local stations plastered the screen with crawls indicating that it was a movie, CBS affiliates around the country received complaints aplenty from viewers who had been taken in…and this despite the fact that Without Warning’s decidedly more science-fictional plotline was the least likely of all these scenarios.

It would have been simple enough to determine if any of these “news events” were really happening. Does HBO cover news? No. Even if it does, is CNN covering a Persian Gulf crisis in 1984? No. Is any network other than NBC, ahem, “RBS”, covering the Charleston crisis? No? Then there probably isn’t one. If CBS has been covering a world-ending meteor storm for the past hour, even if it looks real, why aren’t NBC and ABC and CNN covering the same thing? That segment of the audience that got angry simply missed the joke…and failed some common sense fact-checking litmus tests.

These days, of course, the “faux newscast” format is dead. The internet is awash with hoaxes; manic conspiracy theorists manage to get real face time on YouTube, assuming they don’t have actual radio and TV deals lined up…and surely you’d hear about Charleston or the meteors on Twitter, right?

Chances are, some would still fall for the okeydoke. (Scarily enough, one hears that these same gullible people vote…or run for office themselves.)

So let’s examine the scorecard for each movie.

Special Bulletin: This is still the granddaddy of them all. Despite how scarily accurate Looking Glass may have been, Special Bulletin presents the most plausible scenario, and uses its characters to ask cutting questions about crisis news coverage as entertainment, poking sharply-pointed fun at news entities’ tendency to come up with full packages of intro graphics (with urgent music!) for any crisis that’ll be covered for more than a couple of hours. If anything, this scenario could be re-filmed more plausibly now: the terrorists wouldn’t be waiting for a camera power/signal cable thicker than an aircraft fuel hose, they’d simply Facetime “RBS” headquarters from the reporter’s phone and demand to have that put directly on the air. See if you can spot Lane Smith, the future face of the resistance newscasts in V: The Series, as a reporter working the Congressional beat here; this was earlier in his career, before the lizards landed. The writer/producer/director duo behind Special Bulletin went on to create thirtysomething.

Countdown To Looking Glass: If you grew up in the 1970s/’80s and were aware of the threat that the Cold War might thaw out very quickly, what with all the saber-rattling and speeches about “evil empires” and public safety films about what to do when The Bomb drops, this movie also rings terrifyingly true. Having real news anchors play the part of news anchors is a step up. Looking Glass’ fatal flaw is its cutaways to life outside the TV studio. They convey necessary information that would have been hard to do otherwise; one of “CVN”‘s reporters is sleeping with a White House staffer, and when he begs her to drop everything and evacuate Washington with him, it isn’t romantic – it’s scary. But this element of Looking Glass also takes me right out of the story every time. If not for those scenes, this would be the most flawless (and utterly terrifying) of the bunch.

Without Warning: This one is the most fun, simply because it’s no longer the Cold War. It’s also not Deep Impact or Armageddon – there’s a nice twist in the story that begins to emerge about halfway through, initially rebuked by the [made-up] news media and commentators alike as the most outlandish of explanations for what’s happening. Other than that, Without Warning rings true, though its coverage is a little too perfect and free of technical flaws. Again using real news talent, it’s a nice exercise in cognitive dissonance between “these are real news people” and “but this can’t possibly be happening”.

(Please note that your author, who dearly loves movies like this, has taken great pains not to spoil the endings. Fake newscast movies, like revenge and ice cream, are best served cold. Both Special Bulletin and Without Warning are available on DVD; Countdown To Looking Glass is forever confined to VHS, like the Cold War itself.)

What killed the “faux newscast”?

Quite simply, the world has become a scarier place, sometimes because the very people we once trusted to simply convey the news to us have deemed is necessary to make it scary. Scary sells ad time. These quaint artifacts of classic TV now seem tame compared to disasters that we’ve seen unfold on live TV ? terrorist attacks, hurricanes and levee breaks, tornadoes bearing down on hospitals, tsunamis engulfing entire populated areas..none of these are fiction. We’ve all seen these horrible scenarios play out for real, complete with earnest news anchors, rookie reporters tested to their limits, and panicked bystanders and witnesses. We’ve seen reporters shot to death at point-blank range live on the air.

We no longer need nightmare live news scenarios faked for us.

And, while hastily trying to figure out what the official hashtag for the latest real-life crisis is, we still don’t ask the big questions about why the news media operate the way they sometimes do, who decides what gets covered and what barely gets a mention in the “C” block after the weather.

Maybe, on occasion, we should.

Earl Green has been the head writer and podcast host at theLogBook.com since 1989, when the Earth’s crust was still cooling and dinosaurs could be heard plaintively baying for the blood of small mammals in the distant background of the pre-internet age. He has worked in his fair share of TV newsrooms (for real), and has since gone on to write two gigantic Doctor Who guidebooks, VWORP!1 and VWORP!2, and a more recent book about being geeky and daddy at the same time, Fatherhood, Fandom, and Fading Out. He’s also written for The Retroist, All Game Guide, and Classic Gamer Magazine, and hosts three podcasts: theLogBook.com’s Escape Pod (a daily dose of geeky history), Select Game (covering the Odyssey2 video game system), and In The Grand Theme Of Things (grouping movie, TV and game soundtracks together by topic). He is writing this bio from underneath a pile of cats. Please. Send help.
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Sliding Across The Solar System

I recently rejoined the Planetary Society, after a long, long time away. It’s not that I cooled on the idea of exploring other worlds – anyone who has friended me on Facebook or followed me on Twitter knows that I spent 2015 crowing about New Horizons swinging past Pluto, possibly even more than I mentioned my kids.

One of the reasons I joined again was to get the Society’s amazing quarterly newsletter, primarily so I could immediately hand the physical copies of it to my oldest son, because he loves stars, planets, moons, and the spacecraft that visit them as much as I do. Doesn’t this mean I’m not getting the newsletter? Nope – members can download a digital copy anytime they like. They can even download back issues.

In the course of trawling through those back issues, I ran across an order form that fired long-dormant synapses and took me back to my own space-soaked childhood.

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Oh, those slide sets. I ordered them all. All. of. them.

Produced by Holiday Films, the slide sets could be purchased with or without an accompanying cassette tape (which would include tones to trigger some automatic slide projectors to change slides).

Other people had 35mm slides of their family vacations. Me too, assuming you were talking about vacations that happened in my head as I was clinging tenaciously to Voyager 1’s magnetometer boom as it zipped past Jupiter in 1979, or as I was sitting on top of Viking 1, watching it take the first pictures from the surface of Mars. And…yes, you guessed it, I once took a vacation all the way to Uranus.

Mars Slides - No Flash - Earl Green

In the days before the internet, this was how members of the public got their hands on NASA imagery – it was either ordering slide sets like these, or waiting the two-or-three months of lead time that it took for an article to be published about a recent mission in Astronomy or National Geographic.

Similar ads also appeared in Astronomy Magazine, along with ads hawking NASA mission patches, and I fell into that hobby too. (I’m still there.) Armed with a second-hand slide projector, and a smaller slide viewer that had the handy side-effect of bearing more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Spock’s hooded science station viewer from Star Trek, I was off on my vacation through the solar system on a regular basis.

These days, of course, you can hop online and look at raw photos almost as soon as they’re transmitted back to Earth. In my adolescence, staring at slides from NASA missions was a seriously geeky pastime; these days, there are meetups and tweetups and that seriously geeky pastime is considered by more than a few people to be cool. (One NASA mission, Juno, will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016, and NASA is allowing the public to nominate targets at which to point the on-board “Junocam“.)

But once upon a time, when you were a geeky kid in Arkansas, you just had to place a few mail orders to slide across the solar system.

Below are some links to help you and yours begin your vacation through the solar system…without any mail order wait time.

Curiosity (Mars) raw image server: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/
Opportunity (Mars) raw image server: http://mars.nasa.gov/mer/gallery/images.html
Mars Express (Mars) raw image server: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Missions/Mars_Express/%28class%29/image?mission=Mars+Express&keyword=+–%253E+Keyword&idf=+–%253E+ID&Ic=on&subm3=GO
Dawn (Asteroid Belt) raw image server: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/
Rosetta (Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko) raw image server): http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Missions/Rosetta/%28class%29/image?mission=Rosetta&type=I
Cassini (Saturn) raw image server: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/
New Horizons (Pluto and beyond) raw image server: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/
Planetary Society: http://www.planetary.org

Gareth Thomas: An Appreciation

On Wednesday, April 13th, fans of vintage British cult TV lost one of that genre’s most distinctive faces and voices, Welsh-born actor Gareth Thomas, who died of heart failure at the age of 71. He’s not as well-known in the States as he really should be, and some of his sci-fi and fantasy TV series are obscure even in the UK. But you may still recognize him as the star of some of the most fascinating exports to have come across the Atlantic.

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Star Maidens (1976)
This utterly bizarre one-season wonder was a British/German co-production, chronicling the escape of two male slaves (Pierre Brice and Gareth Thomas) from a harsh, totalitarian, female-dominated society. The 13 episodes of this show are fondly remembered by many who watched it at the time, though through a more modern lens one can’t tell if it’s trying to be a shrewd commentary on gender politics, or a lewd-but-still-TV-safe lowbrow sci-fi romp. Where Adam, Brice’s character, is a square-jawed wonder of stoicism, Thomas plays Shem, a man who is perfectly accustomed to the way of life on his native planet of Medusa, and would actually like to go back there if it wasn’t at the point of a ray gun. Think of Star Maidens as the Lexx of the 1970s, and you’re not too far off from the tone of this show. It’s available on DVD, but only in region 2.

[Via] DrCForbin

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Children Of The Stones (1977)
Shown on the now-extinct HTV regional network in the UK (since absorbed by ITV), Children Of The Stones is a seven-episode exercise in pure creepiness…for kids! The shrieking choral theme music alone can inspire months of nightmares, and it was shot on location at – and used some of the actual local Druid folklore of – a stone circle at Avebury. The origins, mythology, and true purpose of the Stonehenge-like structure are at the heart of the show’s mystery. Thomas plays astrophysicist Adam Brake, who has decided to get away from big city life with his son, Matthew. But it turns out that Matthew has a role to play in the events that are destined to take place in the stone circle. Thomas’ performance helps considerably to sell the sheer creep factor of this show, which was shown in the early 1980s as part of Nickelodeon’s “Third Eye” programming strand. Again, it’s on DVD, but as a PAL region 2 release only.

[Via] Network Distributing

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Blake’s 7 (1978-81)
Shown on many an American PBS station as the mid-1980s Doctor Who craze saw the BBC putting some past genre gems back on the market, Blake’s 7 starred Thomas as Roj Blake, an innocuous working stiff in an Orwellian far future who discovers that his mind has been wiped, and he used to be one of the most vocal political agitators opposing the totalitarian Federation. As you might imagine, this discovery revives more than just a little bit of that rebellious feeling, and Blake is soon convicted on trumped-up charges so the Federation has an excuse to ship him off to a prison planet for the rest of his life. But the ship taking him there encounters a gigantic alien spacecraft, and Blake and some of his fellow prisoners are forced by the prison ship’s crew to scout ahead (just in case the alien ship is dangerous). Blake instead turns the tables on his captors, and escapes with a crew made up of fellow convicts, vowing to bring the Federation down. Though remembered chiefly for its campy disco-era costuming, Blake’s 7 was a major inspiration for later space operas such as Babylon 5, and the infighting among Blake’s crew was as hazardous to his health as any threat the Federation could pose. After two years with little in the way of character development or acting challenges, Gareth Thomas left the show, but returned to the now-Blake-less Blake’s 7 for the following two season finales, including a series-ending episode that has never been forgotten by anyone who’s seen it. In 2012, Thomas revived Blake for a series of audio stories released by Big Finish Productions, reuniting the surviving cast of the show’s early years. The entire series has been released on DVD (in region 2, naturally), but has since gone out of print.

[Via] VHS Video Vault

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Knights Of God (1987)
Possibly the most obscure show on this list, Knights Of God was less sci-fi and more of an alternate-future-history depicting a totalitarian future Britain ruled by a deranged military leader. Knights then proceeds to rather strangely retell the Arthurian myth in this context, with Thomas starring as a resistance leader (quite a stretch after Blake’s 7!) whose son is the show’s boy-who-would-be-king. Seen here with a bearded Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor Who, in his final TV role before his death), Thomas was part of an absolutely fantastic cast acting out a frequently absurd story. Perhaps due to its politically-charged setting (Knights’ future England is at war with Wales, and its primary villain personally executed the Royal Family), Knights Of God has never been released or rerun in any form; anyone who has copies of it has copies of VHS tapes of the original 1987 broadcast.

[Via] TVSproductions82

Merlin: The Quest Begins (1998)
Directed by frequent-flyer-of-’90s-TV director David Winning, Merlin: The Quest Begins had the happy knack of being syndicated to American TV stations (under the title Merlin: The Magic Begins) at roughly the same time that NBC was heavily promoting its own Merlin miniseries. One could be forgiven for thinking that the two were connected. Thomas co-starred in Merlin: The Quest Begins as Blaze, a mentor who takes young Merlin (ex-Robin Of Sherwood star Jason Connery) under his wing. The rest of the movie serves as Merlin’s origin story, and ropes in a ridiculous number of pop culture references from other sources, such as young Merlin’s temptation to join “the dark side”. Thomas’ solid performance is arguably one of the high points of this whole endeavor, which seemed to try – and fail – to capture the Xena/Hercules audience.

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Torchwood (2006)
Gareth Thomas was far too busy with other roles to have ever guest starred on Doctor Who, though he liked to amuse convention audiences with tales of filming in British rock quarries (a ubiquitous location for sci-fi series), where – as he liked to tell it – he could walk around a corner and end up face-to-face with Tom Baker and the Doctor Who film crew in the same quarry. But he has lent his voice to Doctor Who audio stories in the 21st century, and finally got some face time in the Who universe via the darker, more adult spinoff series Torchwood. In the show’s third episode, Thomas guest stars as a man hiding a dark secret from decades ago…until an alien artifact let’s Torchwood’s doctor, Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), in on that secret. It’s a character that Thomas has to share with a younger actor who appears in flashbacks, but as usual, he delivers a powerful (and not just a little bit creepy) performance in the time available to him.

Acting (and reacting) believably was Gareth Thomas?? stage-and-screen superpower, and his lengthy list of credits in cult TV shouldn’t be taken as an indicator that his entire career was limited to one genre. He’s appeared in such period pieces as The Citadel, By The Sword Divided, and the BBC’s 1975 miniseries adaptation of How Green Was My Valley, and as recently as 2011 seemed to be set to guest star on nearly every British hospital/medical drama series in recent history. His memorable performances (and his utterly fantastic voice) will live on in his absence.

[Via] TheLerxst2112

Frakes & Geeks

Some days you’re a company marketing automation software for businesses. And some days you’re a company marketing automation software for businesses and you’ve got money to burn, so hey, why not license Star Trek and hire Jonathan Frakes to hawk your (soft)wares?

That was the story behind this bizarre, distributed-on-VHS promotional video by the now-extinct Boole & Babbage, Inc., a holdover from the giant mainframe age of computing trying to survive in the desktop computing age. (The introduction of the IBM PC hit the company hard in the early 1980s, as the shift away from monolithic mainframes caused their mainframe-specific software sales to plummet.)

To give their relatively new enterprise (get it?) automation system, Command Post, a big promotional push, Boole & Babbage shelled out $75,000 to license Star Trek: The Next Generation imagery from Paramount Pictures in 1993, renewing that licensing deal at that amount for two further years. After a round of negotiations with the agents of Jonathan “Commander Riker” Frakes, and a little bit of filming on the bridge of the Enterprise, Boole & Babbage had themselves a new number one spokesperson.

(Just tell yourself this is from an episode involving Ferengi mind control. It’ll be okay.)

[Via] TrekCore

Frakes was also paid to make personal appearances with Star Trek: TNG uniform-clad Boole & Babbage sales reps at industry trade shows, reportedly a very successful business strategy. Let’s face it: early 1990s + a Star Trek: The Next Generation cast member + IT geeks? Sold. (It’s quite possible that the Futurama catchphrase “Shut up and take my money!” was first uttered at a Boole & Babbage trade show booth.)

Sadly, Boole & Babbage fell upon hard times, its stock prices falling almost as fast as the Enterprise plunged out of the sky in Star Trek: Generations. It was assimilated by a larger software company in late 1998, by which time the license for the Star Trek advertising campaign had been allowed to expire.

Further info on the making of “The Vision”: http://trekcore.com/blog/2013/10/exclusive-inside-boole-babbages-trek-vision/

A Review of the Nearly Forgotten TV Show, “Future Cop” on DVD

Ten years before Brent Spiner’s Data had to convince a ship full of gently skeptical crewmates that an android could be an asset to their crew, there was Future Cop. I mean, we all remember Future Cop, right?

No. Nobody remembers Future Cop. But that’s okay. Mill Creek Entertainment’s budget-priced 2-DVD complete series set is here to rectify the situation.

Future Cop is the story of Haven (Michael Shannon), a “biosynthetic android” police officer who’s being beta tested on the mean streets of 1970s Los Angeles. The LAPD’s Commissioner, unenthusiastic about having to lumber his officers with a walking, talking, badge-wearing, gun-carrying tech demo, assigns two of his crustiest, most senior officers to “train” Haven. Enter Officers Joe Cleaver (Ernest Borgnine) and Bill Bundy (John Amos). Cleaver discovers the truth about Haven by accident on the “rookie”‘s first day of duty, but is sworn to keep that secret from Bundy, his partner of many years.

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Hilarity, as one might gather, ensues, but only for a little while: Future Cop ran for a pilot plus six episodes on ABC in 1977 before the show was cancelled. A year after its premiere on ABC, Future Cop was “re-piloted” with the same cast and crew under the title Cops and Robin, which aired as an NBC movie-of-the-week in 1978. Cops and Robin is included at the end of the second disc on this set, and it feels like another movie-length episode of Future Cop.

Future Cop is a fun show; all of the scenarios that you can envision with this premise happen as you would imagine them. That, perhaps, was the show’s downfall – it’s just a little bit predictable. But hard-driving cop show action was never going to be Future Cop’s forte; it’s meant to be a fun, fish-out-of-water buddy cop show. The one attempt to do serious drama, the glued-together two-parter “The Mad Mad Bomber”, loses the flavor of the lighter-hearted episodes. (Amusingly, the opening credits on that story feature an abrupt voice-over announcing “The ABC Friday Night Movie!”)

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It’s also surprisingly forward-looking for 1977: a test scenario enacted for Haven in the pilot episode forces him to decide if the suspect holding up a grocery store is an elderly white woman, or a token ethnic character. Surprise: it was the old lady. And because he has sensors that do a nitrite test on the fly, Haven apprehends the correct suspect. It’s a nice little piece of anti-racial-profiling humor for nearly 40 years ago. (To be fair, though, other episodes reinforce typical ethnic/gender stereotypes of the ’70s, so Future Cop really doesn’t feel that much like the future.)

Video and audio quality on the DVDs is pretty average for a four-decade-old show, but the decent image and sound quality are a huge step up from the previous state of affairs (i.e. wondering if the master copies of the episodes still existed at all). The discs themselves are bare-bones: just the show, nothing else. But as obscure as this show is (even Wikipedia and IMDb don’t have 100% correct episode titles as of this writing), to expect anything in the way of bonus features is to expect too much. The menus are basic, functional, and quite ably show off the fact that even the publicity photos for this show haven’t been kept in great shape.

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The sad thing about the lack of bonus features is that there’s one hell of a story behind the making (and the eventual fall) of Future Cop: immediately after the broadcast of the pilot in 1976, science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova sued ABC and Paramount because the basic storyline of the series – android cop alongside a crusty, curmudgeonly human cop – was almost identical to a script they had adapted from their own 1970 short story, Brillo. The Brillo pilot script was shopped around Hollywood in 1973, and ABC optioned it, but allowed the option to expire…and then Future Cop went into production. Ellison and Bova waited for four years to get their case before a judge and jury, who took only four weeks to decide in their favor. ABC, Paramount, and a former Paramount executive shelled out over $300,000 in damages in early 1980, the largest punitive award in a plagiarism lawsuit up to that point in American legal history.

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There’s no word on whether or not Ellison and Bova are getting a cut of Future Cop DVD sales, but it is known that Harlan Ellison used part of his lawsuit proceeds to lease a billboard directly across from the Paramount lot in 1980, bearing the warning “WRITERS! DON’T LET THEM STEAL FROM YOU!” in enormous letters. Obviously, there was enough of a saga there to make for at least one really juicy bonus featurette, but probably not one that would’ve made the show’s rights-holders very happy ? and given the obscurity of the show itself, probably not worth the expense of producing such a documentary.

Fans of outdated genre TV have a new treat to look forward to, as do students of TV: whether one attributes the Future Cop premise to Ellison & Bova, or to the nominal writers of the series itself, it casts a very long shadow over the genre. Everything from Automan to Mann & Machine to Almost Human owe a debt to Future Cop. It’s a snapshot of the state of TV science fiction before Star Wars: keep it cheap by intermingling with a “modern day” genre. If Future Cop didn’t achieve escape velocity in early ’77, it wasn’t going to fly under a different title in 1978 either: the audience’s expectations of the genre had changed. (Perhaps tellingly, the premiere of Cops and Robin was paired with an episode of the Buck Henry sci-fi sitcom Quark on NBC.)