Friday 16 December 2016

Callan - The Good Ones Are All Dead

Remember when I looked at Callan's Armchair Theatre and said how nice it was to see a German on 1960s’ telly who didn’t turn out to be a Nazi? Well, it’s back to business as usual in The Good Ones Are All Dead. We’re told Strauss is a Nazi from the start and Callan’s task is to bring him in as the Israeli authorities are rather keen to have a few words. Quite possibly 'What would you like for your final meal?'

This is officially Series 1, Episode 1 of Callan. The events of A Magnum for Schneider are referenced but with it being broadcast five months previously they are thankfully not dwelt on. Hunter convinces Callan to work for the Section again, partly by blackmail but he also convinces Callan to take more of an interest by bringing up the fact that during the war Callan’s parents were killed by a V2 bomb. This Strauss fellow had a lot of responsibility for the launch of the V2 bombs after being involved with the concentration camps. It surprises me that this is what convinces Callan. It’s not like Strauss stood there and gunned down Callan’s parents in cold blood. The V2 bombs were launched from the other side of the Channel. Attributing blame to one guy for them seems quite a stretch. It’s hard to judge Callan’s perspective because for one we don’t know what he did in the war, if anything. His age is difficult to gauge. If we’re being generous then Callan sports a sensible short haircut. If we’re being harsh I’ll point out Edward Woodward’s receding hairline. Receding hairlines aren’t the be-all and end-all of course, as some of you may be glad to hear. Callan seems like he’s seen a lot, done a lot, knows a lot and obviously had enough. He’s been around a while but just how long is hard to say. I remain sceptical of this reasoning but I suppose it ties in with Callan becoming emotionally involved in things.

Callan takes his bookkeeping skills off to work for Strauss who is now called Stavros. His accent sounds more French than Greek to me. It doesn’t take much to work out that Stavros is shagging his secretary. Is she his secretary because they’re shagging? There are no references to a wife or children so it isn’t that bad but he is a good twenty years older than her. Callan isn’t certain that Stavros is actually Strauss so goes off to do some snooping.

He does a neat spy thing of spotting a hair laid across the handles of the doors to Stavros’s bedroom. In Dr No you see James Bond pull out a hair, lick his thumb and stick the hair across his wardrobe doors. When he comes back the hair has gone and he knows his room was searched. Stavros has used a long hair or possibly a cotton thread so it can lie across the handles. Callan picks it up and remembers to put it back when he leaves. Inside the room, he finds nothing except for a large safe hidden in the wardrobe.

Later on, Callan meets Lonely and describes the safe to him. Lonely turns out to be something of an expert on safes and knows exactly what sort it is. He’ll need a copy of the key. Callan also meets with a Jewish man, Berg, who was in a concentration camp run by Strauss and insists the man is definitely Strauss. "I must know why you're so sure," Callan says."I was his house slave for three months," Berg explains, telling Callan that he once broke a plate and Strauss broke three of his ribs. "When you fear a man, you watch him all the time." Callan is convinced.

Having copied Stavros's key using plasticine, Callan now has a key to the safe. When he gets into the safe he finds a trunk and rifles through it. An SS uniform, a Nazi party card, a gun and a bag containing gold nuggets are among the items. The SS jacket has a cyanide capsule sown underneath the lapel and when Callan checks the wardrobe he finds several other jackets that have one too. Callan is rumbled by the secretary, Jeanne, who confesses she has known Stavros/Strauss's past for a while and it was she who turned him in. When Callan calls into Hunter we learn that the gold nuggets are in fact gold fillings, a detail that sent a shiver down my spine. If you weren't aware, the Nazis extracted them from Jewish people in the concentration camps.

When Stavros/Strauss returns he finds Jeanne in the bedroom who tells him she thinks Callan is a thief as she caught him acting suspiciously. He sends Jeanne away and tells her to get on a plane to Cairo. Afterwards, Callan hears a noise and going into the corridor sees the bedroom door open. As he goes towards it Stavros appears behind him with a gun, wearing his SS jacket.

Callan informs Stavros/Strauss that he has been found out. When Stavros is told it is the Israelis who are on to him, his sheer terror is conveyed in his "Oh my god". He tries to bribe Callan - "You work for money?" - but no dice. Here follows a magnificent scene between the two of them. Callan tells him he must be handed over as it is what the Israelis want. Stavros insists "Strauss is dead!" For the past 23 years he has lived a good life and tried to be a good man. He has been racked with guilt and it was finding Jeanne that was his ultimate salvation. "You poor bastard - she turned you in!" Callan yells at Stavros, who then seems truly defeated. He tries to bite the cyanide capsule on his jacket but Callan stops him, crushing it on the floor.  I don't think I have ever felt slightly sorry for a Nazi before but Stavros seems truly repentant. He convinces me that he regrets what he did, wanting to become a better person. He appears to convince Callan too, or at least to elicit some pity, as Callan hands him one of the other jackets. As Stavros bites into the capsule, the camera stays on Callan, showing his racked expression as he turns his back on the deed.

Stavros's repeated insistence that his old self is long gone is what grabs me at the end of this episode. I also thought it was a brave move for the programme to portray an ex-Nazi so sympathetically. The war had only ended 22 years before so a proportion of the audience would have fought against the Nazis and some may well have been in concentration camps or had family that had been. This wasn't just an ordinary infantryman either; we're told he was an Obersturmbahnführer, the SS equivalent of a Lieutenant-Colonel - a fairly high rank. Despite the pity I feel for Nicholas 'Strauss is dead' Stavros, the one gap in his story is that he held on to remnants of his Nazi past. Stavros says it is a reminder of a time when he was looked up to and held in high regard, but surely if he regrets what he did to earn him that respect then he would throw it all away?

I haven't mentioned Toby Meres, Callan's colleague, though he does appear in this episode. In Armchair Theatre he was played by Peter Bowles but from now on it's Anthony Valentine. I was initially disappointed not to see Bowles again but I actually think Valentine is much better for what's required here. He intensely dislikes Callan and comes across somewhat callous.

This is an excellent series 1, episode 1 for the show, managing to tell us what we need to without repeating Armchair Theatre too much. "What is the Section for, Callan?" asks Colonel Hunter. "Eliminating people, framing, extortion, death... all the jobs that are too dirty for her Majesty's other security services to touch," Callan replies, sounding like he's quoting a handbook.

There is also some continuity as Hunter throws Callan's own file in front of him, which Hunter had moved into a different cover at the end of A Magnum for Schneider. Callan is annoyed as he reads it: "Red cover. Most urgent, marked for death." Hunter's expression is blank as he blackmails Callan into taking on the job: "You do this for me or I'll have you destroyed." I love seeing the contempt Callan has for Hunter. He uses the word 'mate' a lot, often in the tone of someone in a pub at ten on a Friday night, asking 'D'you fancy taking this outside, mate?' Callan doesn't take Hunter's threat well. He leaves it a while before returning to the subject. "I know you can have me killed. But... [he draws a gun] don't you push me too far, right... because I might just let myself be killed... only you won't be there to see it because mate I'll get you first. And I can do it. Believe me, I can do it. You ought to know." It is interesting that Callan knows and states how good he is ("very good") but he never comes across as arrogant.

Hunter says Callan's only good at killing people but in both Armchair Theatre and The Good Ones Are All Dead we see Callan kill only one person. I think Callan does show himself to be very good, if not excellent, at what he does but what he does is more than just murder. Perhaps those other things affect Callan just as much.

Thursday 8 December 2016

Doctor Who: The Space Pirates - Episode 3

We're back in telesnap land for the duration now. Despite this and despite it being The Space Pirates I... actually enjoyed this episode. I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting the remaining four episodes to be a hard slog of space hell. But the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe became the focus of this episode, unlike the previous episodes in which they had seemed like the asides.

Milo Clancy is the fellow who shot Jamie at the end of Episode 2 but of course Jamie is only stunned. Milo gives them a hand as he is heading to a nearby planet. The Space Corps are keeping an eye on things and believe that the planet is the base for the space pirates.

They are right. When Clancy, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land, Clancy tells the other three to remain in the spaceship because they will get lost in the caves. But they talk and start to think that maybe Clancy is one of the pirates so head off. They get lost, then confronted by some pirates with a huge scary floodlight so they all jump down a hole.

With less emphasis on the Space Corps and fewer shots of spaceships just moving around in space, this episode became interesting. We haven't actually seen much of the pirates since the first episode but the conclusion of Episode 3 means this is likely to change hopefully. Separating Clancy from the TARDIS crew after a while was good because having the three of them compete for dialogue could have become problematic.

I am feeling more optimistic about the rest of this story now but daren't get too excited as it could all nosedive as quickly as it lifted up. My only gripe for this episode is Milo Clancy. The audio recording with my telesnaps is not immaculate and his strong accent is difficult to understand at times. It is also starting to grate somewhat.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Doctor Who: The Space Pirates - Episode 2

Episode 2 is the only episode of The Space Pirates to actually still exist. I was so bored by Episode 1 that it took a long time to convince myself to continue. A part of me wishes I hadn't. Whilst the previous episode took fifteen minutes before the TARDIS crew showed up, in Episode 2 it still takes over seven minutes. This doesn't sound like a lot but when the entire episode is only about 25 minutes long it feels like a long time.

The Space Corps catch up with a small ship and the old guy inside tells them he has had his argonite nicked several times. He's reported it but nothing has been done. He is clearly quite annoyed that the Space Corps have only come out now that their own property has been getting attacked. The Space Corps don't really trust this fellow and think he could well be one of the thieves himself. They let him go so they can follow him.

Meanwhile the TARDIS crew are stuck in a section of the satellite, Alpha 4, that got broken up. The Doctor tries to get them out or at least bring them together with another section of the satellite but the attempt goes to pot. A bloke breaks in at the end and shoots Jamie. We really should care a lot more about this but I was just so relieved to see the credits start rolling.

I found it hard to concentrate on this episode because so very little happened. A lot of it is people sitting or standing around talking along with yet more model shots in space. I have considered giving up on this story. Why am I watching it after all? Completion I think. And I like completion. I have made it through dull stories before; I watched all four telesnap reconstructed episodes of Galaxy Four (was livid when an episode was found only a few months later). So for now I will continue, in part because Troughton is my favourite Doctor and this is my final chance to 'watch' more of him.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Armchair Theatre - A Magnum for Schneider

What I liked when I watched the episode of Callan in Network's ITV 60 box set was that it seemed so different from the similar adventure series I had seen from that period. I have only seen a handful of the early Danger Man episodes and though there are similarities, in that both Callan and John Drake are doing the messy jobs that no one else wants to do, Callan’s character intrigues me more because he’s a reluctant participant. John Drake’s world is, if not necessarily glamorous, then at least exotic. The Saint takes similar excursions to foreign climes, even if the cast rarely stepped outside the grounds of Elstree Studios. Callan lacks that escapism and in comparison, it’s a very dingy world. The Saint and The Avengers are both fun and bright even when they start off in black and white. The Prisoner is weird, psychological and taunting. The colourful and relentlessly upbeat nature of the Village is increasingly creepy once you discover what is actually going on. But nonetheless, I would hesitate to describe The Prisoner as ‘dark’ and yet that’s the first word that springs to mind for Callan. Classing it as an ‘adventure’ series is probably pushing it. Everything seems to happen in the shadows and the main character has a big problem with the morality of what he does. I’ve also never heard the word ‘bastard’ in any of the other series. And tension. Tension! So much tension. The music is used sparingly. Sometimes it racks things up but other times the complete utter silence is nerve-wracking. I get the feeling that if anyone in the studio had coughed they would have been instantly fired. Everything seems planned to give it as much realism as possible.

As I sat down to the first disc of my Callan – The Monochrome Years box set, I selected ‘Play All’ and was intrigued to see a caption for Armchair Theatre appear. Armchair Theatre were one-off plays but this one eventually spawned Callan it would appear. The title of the play is A Magnum for Schneider. A chocolate lolly? Champagne? Probably not.

We have a wonderful opening scene where we learn quite a lot quite quickly. We meet Colonel Hunter (Ronald Radd), a rather cold and dislikeable middle-aged man. We gather that Callan used to work for him, for ‘them’, but he felt things too much and it turns out this isn’t a particularly desirable characteristic when your job is killing people. It seems to have been a mutual agreement that he left the job but now they want him back. As he’s utterly bored stiff in his current job he decides to reluctantly take up the offer to kill one more man. I’m sure plenty of people know how he feels. Just because he can, Callan fires four bullets at a target and considers himself a touch off form as one misses.

Callan’s victim-to-be, Schneider, has the office across the hall. He’s played by Joseph Fürst, an actor whom I’ve only ever seen portraying bad guys. Nothing in the world can stop him in Doctor Who (in fact on Saturday 4th February 1967 you could have watched him go to a watery grave in The Underwater Menace on BBC1 then later turn over to see him in this episode of Armchair Theatre!) and he plays a Professor working for Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever. He does over-the-top quite well. Callan bumps into him in the hall, they start talking and find they have a shared interest in model soldiers. It’s a very natural conversation and they even exchange a joke about the war, which I really liked considering Germans on TV at this time always seem to turn out to be ex-Nazis. Schneider has some soldiers set up in his office (I love that he plays with his toy soldiers whilst at work!) and invites Callan in to see them. Callan is hesitant but eventually goes in. He’s already been told that he gets too emotionally involved in cases and here he is going to play soldiers with the bloke he’s meant to be bumping off! No wonder he’s been struggling if this is what he usually does.

Heading back to work, his boss (Ivor Dean) reprimands him for being a few minutes late. There are only a couple of scenes between Callan and his boss in this episode but they’re good. They’re well written, showing us Callan’s contempt for his job and his boss. He takes the piss and the way he speaks to his superior is inappropriate at best. At worst it’s downright rude. I think Callan is supposed to have been there about six months and frankly I’m astounded he has kept the job that long. As a man with no track record or references we’ve been told that ‘they’ helped get him the job. I wonder if they purposefully chose him such a horrid job.

We get a scene in a pub. It’s small and grotty and so are some of the customers. Callan has come to meet one in particular. Lonely is so nicknamed because no one dare goes near him due to some serious body odour issues that Callan can’t resist repeatedly remarking on. Callan wants a gun and not-so-subtly passes Lonely an envelope containing £100. Quite where a bookkeeper has managed to quickly get £100 from, the equivalent of well over £1000 in 2016, is never explained. He must have savings from his days as an assassin because when we see Callan’s bedsit it’s clear that if he does have any sort of money he certainly is not spending much of it.

Callan isn’t at all sure about his assignment. He sleuths his way into Schneider’s office and later his flat, eventually finding some documents that prove Schneider has been selling guns to Indonesia. My knowledge of foreign affairs in that region is pretty slim. At a push, I could probably find Indonesia on a map. But helpfully this year I did see a BBC documentary from 1964 that followed the British Army in Borneo, which borders Indonesia. The army was in the jungle on the border defending Borneo against Indonesia, who were attempting to invade. I got the impression that the Indonesians they were fighting were more guerrillas than an officially organised army. The British government would understandably then have been none too keen on having someone in their country who was selling guns for people to shoot at its army. After seeing the documents, Callan’s mood changes and he agrees Schneider must die. This is a shame of course because Schneider, apart from illegally buying and selling lethal weapons, is rather a nice guy.

Colonel Hunter has been having Toby Meres (Peter Bowles) follow Callan. After Callan records a to-be-discovered-later tape stating that Colonel Hunter is behind the murder, he opens the door to Peter Bowles who whacks him over the head. When Callan wakes to a phone call from Hunter, he is told that the tape and a note left on his desk have been destroyed. Hunter tells Callan he was foolish but I disagree somewhat. Leaving evidence behind to cover his back if he was caught was a good idea. Not expecting Hunter to have someone keep an eye on him was the foolish part.

Schneider has invited Callan to come round to play toy soldiers for the evening. Hunter has instructed Callan to kill Schneider just before 11 o’clock. But Callan doesn’t. They are having far too much fun re-enacting historical battles. At 11 the doorbell goes and Schneider goes to have a chat with some policemen. His wife goes to bed only to find Toby in there, who coshes her one. Callan comes to see what all the fuss is about and is a tad peeved to see Toby. Between him and the rozzers on the doorstep, Callan is feeling the pressure a bit as Toby urges him to hurry up and shoot Schneider. With the coppers shooed away Schneider returns, finds Toby and is onto Callan too. He takes Toby’s gun and is suspicious that Callan doesn’t have one.

But of course, he does – it’s down his sock. He retrieves the gun, waits until Schneider is about to shoot Toby, then at the last moment quickly brings it out and pulls the trigger. It’s all very sudden and a fantastic moment. Though it is slightly spoilt by Fürst's over the top, highly unrealistic death. Once shot, he manages to toss his gun in the air and dramatically launch himself at a lamp.

After berating Callan for taking his time, Toby asks, “Are you alright?” “Yes,” Callan replies, wearily. But we’re not entirely sure he is.

When Callan asks Toby if it was he who hit him over the head before Toby laughs, apologises and admits it was. Callan isn’t laughing though and whacks him one back. With Toby out cold, Callan wipes his own prints from the gun and leaves it in Toby’s hand.

From a phonebox, Callan calls Hunter. He’s worked out Hunter sent the policemen around, expecting Callan to be caught with a smoking gun. He tells Hunter that Toby is still at the flat. “Oh well it's not important. You could get him out I suppose.” But Callan won't be going to fetch Toby. Callan feels used. “I don’t think I want to work for you, Hunter. It may sound very naive and all that but I did like Schneider. I hate you.”

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Doctor Who: The Space Pirates - Episode 1

The Space Pirates is the penultimate story in season six of Doctor Who. It is also the penultimate story for the second Doctor, who happens to be my favourite Doctor. It is the only one of his stories I have never watched. Until now.

When Doctor Who returned to BBC1 in 2005 I consumed as much of it as I could. One such way was through the photonovels on the BBC's Doctor Who website. They are a sort of online book, made primarily from telesnaps and text depicting what is going on and what is being said. They were created for stories that have episodes missing. They either do not exist or only partly exist. I passed over the first Doctor's stories and instead worked my way through all the second Doctor ones. I came to adore this Doctor and Jamie before I had even seen a single episode of theirs. But The Space Pirates is the only one of the second Doctor's missing/partly missing stories that has no telesnaps and therefore has no photonovel.

Some years ago I began a 'Whoathon', watching all of Doctor Who's episodes from the start. This eventually took me through any second Doctor stories I had missed. I reached The Space Pirates... and skipped it to watch The War Games instead! I was dreading it and the knowledge that it was 5/6 telesnaps completely put me off. That knowledge is the only concrete information I actually have of the story. What I've heard is that it's terrible, not worth anyone's time and should be brushed under the carpet to be forgotten about.

It's time though. If I am to ever go on to reach the fun times of U.N.I.T., Bessie and Section Leader Shaw (not forgetting - colour!), I need to get my final telesnap story over with. One last time, let's run.

Episode 1

Pirates doing some pirating, but in space

It isn't terrible. I can say that at least. It is not a terrible episode. However the majority of it is rather dull. It takes fifteen minutes - FIFTEEN MINUTES - for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to show up. These fifteen minutes stretch. The Space Pirates is a great title for a story. It sounds thrilling and exciting. You imagine the 26th century version of Captain Hook perhaps, mowing down Space Corps personnel with a blaster gun or swiping at them with a laser sword, his neon eye patch secretly scanning for valuable cargo. This is not what we are given. Instead it's a couple of blokes in dodgy headgear blowing up satellites in order to steal the 'argonite' they are built from. The reconstruction I watched has a lot of scenes with spaceships moving slowly in space and men in spacesuits floating as they mess with the satellites. There is also a lot of time at a Space Corps' ship's bridge where the crew watch blobs on screens and the captain makes the odd announcement over his PA system.

The future doesn't let women on the bridge to look at blobs on the screens

The arrival of the TARDIS crew is a welcome respite from all of this. They arrive on an unmanned satellite that has recently been manned and shortly afterwards gets attacked by pirates. The crew themselves get shot at but in the end find themselves trapped somewhere, ensuring they never have to exchange a single word of dialogue with any of this week's guest actors. I can't believe our three lead actors have been given so little to do in an episode as boring as this one. I'm very much hoping none of them need to go on holiday in this story as it's going to need all the help it can get to keep it going. Six episodes already feels far too long.

If only I could say that for this episode
There have been few sets so far as it has primarily been 'space' and 'the bridge'. The scenes on the satellite, Alpha 4, feel very claustrophobic though. The two pirates make reference to others with them but it's no surprise they aren't seen on screen as you couldn't have fit them in the room. As Alpha 4 looks to have been blown up at the end of the episode I'm hoping the action (although this definitely seems the wrong choice of word) moves to bigger or at least better sets.