Singin' Sixties

Retroist Scoreboard: The Singin’ Sixties

A bit of a light week here at the Retroist Scoreboard, but there’s still music in the air. And pollen. Maybe more pollen than music this week, admittedly, but there’s still music.

Intrada has unearthed Frank Perkins’ combination score-and-songs album from the 1963 Warner Bros. all-star summer flick Palm Springs Weekend, featuring vocal contributions from the likes of Troy Donahue, Robert Conrad, and Connie Stevens. The album, restored from the original master tapes from the 1960s LP release, weighs in at just a little over half an hour, but if you need a fresh (and rarely-heard) fix from the Beach Blanket Bingo era, this is your ticket back to those times.
Singin' Sixties

Varese Sarabande will begin shipping the first-ever official CD release of the soundtrack from 1968’s Barbarella this Friday, featuring Charles Fox’s score with vocals and performances by Bob Crewe and the Bob Crewe Generation Orchestra. Pre-orders are still being taken, and the price on this one is definitely right.

And you may be able to score this score for even less! Due to upgrades of their shipping systems, Varese is offering a 10% discount on all orders placed between May 8th and 21st, the catch being that shipping may be a little bit on the slow side during that period.

Is that all? That is not all.

Occasionally I might point out new or upcoming releases that tickle our ears the way a good soundtrack does, and it just so happens that my picks in that category this week feature some of the pioneer originators of electronic music, and some of its best current practitioners. Full disclosure: both parties include friends of mine, so forgive me for being a little less impartial than usual.

The Radiophonic Workshop is a live, touring, recording amalgamation of original members of the now-defunct BBC Radiophonic Workshop and newer members. Members Dick Mills and Roger Limb were there in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the Workshop’s pioneering works included the original iteration of the Doctor Who theme music, while later recruits Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland helped define that show’s sound in the 1980s, Howell in particular having arranged the Peter Davison / Colin Baker era version of the Doctor Who theme.

Mark Ayres, who joined the Workshop in its twilight years partly as an archivist of its classic material, and Kieron Pepper, round out the current incarnation of the Workshop, and they’ve assembled a new album using vintage synthesizers and radiophonic recording techniques, Burials In Several Earths, now available for pre-order both as a download and on CD or vinyl. The album drops on May 19th.

[Via] The Radiophonic Workshop

The Radiophonic Workshop originated in the late 1950s, creating electronic wizardry out of tape loops and oscillators on a shoestring budget in a tiny studio in the BBC’s Maida Vale facility. They’ve done a lot more than just Doctor Who – Kingsland single-handedly scored the BBC’s radio and TV incarnations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – though their live shows feature callbacks to their past glories aplenty.

On the slightly more modern side of things, 8 Bit Weapon is releasing an experimental concept EP on May 8th under the title DLC: The OST. Renowned for crafting amazingly multi-layered music from the sound chips of classic video game consoles and computers, the electronic duo consisting of Seth and Michelle Sternberger is taking satirical aim at the industry that made their instruments this time around…or, at least, that industry’s modern tendency to foist incomplete games upon the buying public. The press blurb for DLC: The OST asks: “What IF the music industry followed this business model? How much of a song would you hear before you purchased the rest of it as DLC?“

Next week: get ready for the Lasso of Truth to snatch your wallet, because La-La Land Records is finally releasing a 3-CD box set of music from the 1970s Wonder Woman series, including music from the pilot movie, and even more music from the second and third seasons. Tune in next week for the details!

Sky

Sky is the limit

The 1970s were a bold time for children’s TV in the UK. A generation of writers weaned on the weirdness of Doctor Who were coming into their own, proposing original projects that had some of that show’s sci-fi and fantasy DNA…mixed into a frothy brew with a bit of local legend and superstition and sinister tales. Shows like Children Of The Stones and The Tomorrow People were becoming the norm. And shows like Sky.

Created by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had already written for Doctor Who earlier in the decade and would continue to do so well into the late ‘70s, Sky is a bizarre supernatural tale of natural forces personified and anthropomorphized. In the opening moments of episode one, a gaunt, pale boy appears out of thin air in a forest, and immediately seems to be under attack by the surrounding foliage. (Let’s take a moment here to appreciate young star Marc Harrison’s enormous patience in allowing the crew to throw buckets of leaves on him for these scenes throughout the series.)
Sky

Three youths, who have grown tired of watching their adult relatives duck hunting, find the boy, who is quickly named Sky, since they assume that’s where he came from. But it’s a bit more complicated than that: Sky Is from Earth’s possible future, and he has powers beyond those of mere mortals. But there are vast powers ranged against Sky as well: like the immune system of a body under attack by disease, Earth itself is rejecting this out-of-time, out-of-place visitor, manifesting as a bearded, sinister man known only as Goodchild. He stalks Sky throughout the show’s seven episodes, intent on wiping him from the face of the Earth and restoring the natural balance of things.

Actor Marc Harrison is the best young actor that the show’s makers could have found to play Sky. Thin and pale, and wearing scleral shells that no only make his eyes look huge but are frequently used as part of the show’s somewhat meager special effects, Harrison is more Bowie-esque than Bowie: if the rock star had adopted his Thin White Duke persona in his teens, one imagines this is what he would have looked like.

His youthful co-stars include Richard Speight, who played kid-from-the-future “Peter” on Sky’s ITV stablemate, The Tomorrow People. In one episode, you can even catch a glimpse of David Jackson, a few years before he became strongman Gan on the BBC space opera Blake’s 7, as an affable policeman who isn’t quite buying what he’s being told about sinister supernatural forces on the march.

Adding to the considerable atmosphere of the show is the spooky music. There isn’t a lot of it – maybe all of five minutes of music was created, repeating throughout all seven episodes – but it’s full of foreboding atmosphere that does a lot to set the stage.

[Via] Weird Network

Sky is available as a region 2/PAL DVD, but…there’s a problem. Let’s talk about the British broadcasters and their tendency to lose tapes and entire shows. At the time that this show was made, two-inch open reel videotape was the industry standard…but it was also expensive and took up a lot of space, at least as much as reels of film. In 1975, there was no afterlife for television shows – home video recorders were an incredibly expensive rarity – and once they were shown once or twice, it was customary to wipe and reuse the tape.

As it happens, the original 2” master tapes for Sky still existed through the 1990s…but two of them were fatally damaged in storage. Episodes two and seven on the DVD are represented by VHS backup recordings of those masters, the quality being noticeably lower than the other episodes…but again, when there are classic UK series missing episodes or even whole seasons, the alternative would be a show lost to time. It’s better than nothing.

[Via] Lee Wells

Sky is an acquired taste – it takes a little while before the show tips its hand as to what it’s really about – and it reflects the theme of many a ‘70s show from that era, questioning whether or not human technology is outracing human wisdom…and trying to find a way to play that struggle out dramatically.

Search

The superspy Search engine of the ’70s

It’s 1972. Missions to the moon are still being launched. A space station is about to go into orbit. Live television broadcasts and telephone communications via satellite are becoming commonplace, as are computers capable of handling and sorting immense amounts of information. In this context, the idea of one man, an Aston Martin, and a martini (shaken, but not stirred) standing between the free nations of the world and domination by evildoers seems quaint.
Search

At least that’s the idea in NBC’s Search, a short-lived “spy-fi” series dreamed up by Leslie Stevens, the producer who had brought us The Outer Limits in its original 1960s incarnation. Search involves the top-secret World Security Corporation, evidently a commercial entity with connections in all the right (high) places. Deep inside World Security’s office building lies PROBE Control, a kind of “mission control” guiding the activities of an elite handful of special agents around the globe.

[Via] Warner Archive

Sitting in the big chair at the center of PROBE Control is V.C.R. Cameron (the simply amazing Burgess Meredith), a veteran at the spy game who now turns his expertise toward guiding younger agents in the field. Surrounding “Cam” is a circle of specialists in data retrieval and analysis who, together with PROBE’s amazing computer power, can piece together information on the fly to help agents in the field.
Search - Burgess Meredith

Those agents are themselves called Probes. Each agent has been fitted with an implant that allows them to hear and speak to PROBE Control via satellite, and each agent has a tiny camera, worn either as a pendant or as a ring, allowing PROBE Control to see what they say, analyze things or even people at the spectroscopic level, and monitors and records the agent’s vital signs.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s more than one agent, and an acknowledgement that each Probe needs time off to recover from each taxing adventure. One of three agents leads the charge in each episode: Hugh O’Brian as Lockwood, a.k.a. “Probe One”, the best and brightest of the agents; Anthony Franciosa as Nick Bianco, a.k.a. “Omega Probe”, a former cop with deep knowledge of the criminal underworld; and Doug McClure as the carefree C.R. Grover, the Backup Probe, who gets the assignments no one else wants – or inherits hazardous assignments from Probes who die in the line of duty. (On a purely logistical level, this arrangement would allow for multiple filming crews to be filming multiple scripts at multiple locations, and future-proofs the show against such real-world incidents as a star being hurt…or demanding a larger salary.)


The action starts with the pilot movie PROBE, which aired early in 1972, starring Hugh O’Brian and no less a guest star than Sir John Gielgud. Introducing the show’s jetsetting international scope, flashy stunt work, and the seemingly vast PROBE Control set, the movie can’t have been cheap, but it sets up the concept and some of the characters – and hooked enough viewers to get a go-ahead as a series.

There’s just one problem: PBS was airing a documentary/news series called Probe at the same time, and the producers were asked to change the name of the series when it returned in the fall, hence its rebirth as Search. O’Brian and Burgess Meredith were still aboard, along with many of the same actors who played the PROBE Control computer operators, but O’Brian began rotating episodes more or less evenly with Franciosa and McClure, and the settings changed drastically from week to week.

Search is fun in that early ’70s gotta-have-a-car-chase-if-it’s-on-TV kind of way. Each of the leading men have their own quirks and charms (though Franciosa, as Nick Bianco, emerges as an early favorite just for his character’s Rat-Pack-worthy swagger), and Burgess Meredith anchors each episode, providing his trademark good-natured crankiness.

And that awesome spy tech? The funny thing is, in this world of the internet and cell phones (and, yes, cell phones that can get on the internet), Search’s technology is just now landing this side of the “plausible” line. In 1972, the technology depicted, and its abilities, were pure science fiction, an attempt to transplant the NASA technology that everybody had seen get men to the moon into a spy thriller setting.

After decades of obscurity and being forgotten, Search is back, with the full series available on DVD. PROBE is available on its own disc. It may not be worthy of binge watching as we now know it, but it’s fun to watch an episode now and again. And how did Search fans enjoy the show after it played on their local NBC stations? Believe it or not…there was an official set of Search ViewMaster reels…because nothing is more fun for kids than reliving Hugh O’Brian stoically putting down a terrorist plot!

As cool as that is, however, Search – and its whistle-able theme song and neat spy tech – signed off after a single season. Over the course of its months on the air, the expense of mounting weekly international spy capers (even if “international” meant “Hollywood backlot”) was evidently getting to be a bit much, as PROBE Control shrinks noticeably as the show wears on.

Had the show stayed on for a second year, it would seem like getting the three leading men together, either for a one-off mission to save the world, or as part of an all-hands PROBE effort to stop some global scheme, would’ve been a no-brainer for a sweeps month – kind of like doing Doctor Who’s celebrated Five Doctors episode in year two instead of year 20.

Is this one of those underground classics that needs a modern reboot? Should the Search continue? Seek out the original and judge for yourself.

Moonbase 3

Lunar lunacy on Moonbase 3

How excited would you be to find out that the minds behind Doctor Who were being given a second show to run, an original science fiction epic of their own design, with money coming not just from the BBC, but a major American studio, to be shown on a U.S. broadcast network?
Moonbase 3

If you were asked this in 2017, you’d probably be pretty excited. If, on the other hand, you were asked in 1973, you might also be excited, unaware that the result would be a short-lived show called Moonbase 3.

[Via] Collin Dubberley

Devised by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, who were, respectively, the producer and script editor of Jon Pertwee-era early ’70s Doctor Who, Moonbase 3 chronicles the dramatic goings-on at a British-run moon base, where research, politics, and the middle ground between the two – funding – are always points of contention. The pent-up confines of the base make it a pressure cooker between conflicting personalities; in this environment, personality quirks can become more pronounced, or even dangerous to others.
Moonbase 3

The BBC got 20th Century Fox to pitch in on the making of Moonbase 3, so its model work is fairly impressive – not just 1973 impressive, but nicely done and detailed. (Compare to a contemporary episode of Doctor Who, Frontier In Space, which featured a spacecraft whose spherical nose was literally a painted light bulb. Please don’t drop the model.) There was no obligation from the BBC to connect Moonbase 3 to Doctor Who, so it isn’t a spinoff; it actually aired in a late night slot on ABC in the States.

In fact, it’s that little known American broadcast that explains why we have the show at all now; as is often sadly the case, British-made shows shot on videotape tended to be shown once or twice, and then the tapes would be wiped and reused, as videotape was an expensive luxury in the 1970s. As far as anyone knew, until PAL-to-NTSC converted broadcast videotapes turned up in the vaults in America, Moonbase 3 was lost for good. (In fact, the show’s co-creator, Terrance Dicks, has offered the opinion that this might’ve been just as well, but when one considers the sadly incomplete state of such series as Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Ace Of Wands and Out Of The Unknown, the recovery of the entirety of Moonbase 3 has to count as a good thing.) Converted back to PAL, Moonbase 3 has since been released on DVD in the UK. (It’s so completely unknown in America that no Region 1 release has ever been scheduled; for whatever it’s worth, the show also exists in YouTubed form.)

[Via] Whovian69uk’s channel

What does Moonbase 3 have going for it? An always-interesting cast, ever-shifting alliances and agitations between characters, and some decent sets and special effects for an early ’70s BBC series. The acting style is, to be charitable, early ’70s UK TV – stagey and a bit shouty – but Moonbase 3 boasts some familiar guest stars if you’re a fan of British TV. The highlight of the six episodes is Castor & Pollux, an episode chronicling a mishap during an international space mission involving one of Moonbase 3’s crew – it’s a gripping and plausible story (from a show that predated the American/Soviet Apollo Soyuz Test Project mission by two years) with some dizzying effects work.

On the downside, Moonbase 3 is thick with human intrigue and interpersonal conflict, and perhaps a bit short on the awe and wonder of space. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere of the show isn’t a bundle of laughs, and depending on your frame of mind may not even be entertaining. A few keen observers of British TV have noted that there’s more than a slight similarity between Moonbase 3 and the moody first season of Space: 1999, which arrived two years later on rival network ITV.

Moonbase 3 is an acquired taste, and it’s easy to see why it ran six episodes and then simply didn’t get picked up. The spacey sets built for the show were easy enough to recycle – they turned up as a faux spaceship in the season of Doctor Who that came after Moonbase 3’s short run – and Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks elected to concentrate their energy on the relatively light-hearted travels of the TARDIS. Moonbase 3 survives as a bit of a TV cul-de-sac, a sci-fi curio that may be more effective as a mood piece than as a story.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who Psychology: A Madman With A Box

For fifty-three years Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences across the globe. There is a rather good reason for this phenomenon. Doctor Who is an imaginative series with great science fiction stories. Furthermore it casts even greater actors in the role of the Doctor.

Having said that, the Doctor can at times be detached. Cold. Even alien as well – which makes sense as he is in fact a member of a race of time-traveling aliens from Gallifrey known as the Time Lords. Thankfully throughout the Doctor Who series he had been able to count on companions. Mostly human – but not always – souls that travel with the good Doctor. To help anchor him on his journey through time and space in the TARDIS.

Now then it is most certainly true that the Doctor in his many regeneration’s has experienced adventures. As well as his share of tragedy and horror. So it only stands to reason that in term of his psychological state he would be of great interest.
Doctor Who

Which is why Dr. Travis Langley has gathered his own set of companions to offer essays on Doctor Who. You might remember I covered two other collections by Langley on Game of Thrones and Captain America.

Doctor Who Psychology: A Madman with a Box offers 19 essays from the likes Janina Scarlet, Alan Kistler, Deirde Kelly, Jim Davies, William Sharp, Erin Currie, Wind Goodfriend, Miranda Pollock, Kristen Erickson, Stephen Prescott, Matt Munson, Jenna Busch, Billy San Juan, Daniel Saunders, Martin Lloyd, and David Kyle Johnson.

A few of the subjects of the essays include:

  • The Compassionate Doctor – Caring for Self by Caring for Others
  • New Face, New Man – A Personality Perspective
  • Who Makes a Good Companion
  • Post-Time War Stress Disorder
  • From Human to Machine – At What Point Do You Lose Your Soul?

Not only that but Doctor Who Psychology: A Madman with a Box also includes a foreword by none other than Kay Manning. Who in fact played Jo Grant – the third Doctor’s companion!

BBC Worldwide

The book is available now at better book dealers everywhere. Or you can click here for the books’ page on Amazon. In the light of Christmas just being around the corner, you might find this the perfect stocking stuffer.