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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Western”/”Imitation” (spoilers)

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Here we are… the final two episodes of the final season of the original Mission: Impossible.  Here we go:

“The Western”: Van Cleve (Ed Nelson) and his partner Royce (Barry Atwater) have robbed a priceless historical relic from an implicitly Mexican museum.  Royce wants to dissolve their partnership and take his half of their loot, but Van Cleve anticipated this and arranges to blow up Royce using stock explosion footage from “The Bunker” back in season 3.  Jim gets the tape from a maintenance guy at a large fountain in a public square (at least the second time this has been done this season, but it kinda makes sense that a fountain would be a good place to listen to a secret message without being overheard).  The mission is to retrieve the treasure from Van Cleve so it can be returned to its rightful owners — by which they mean the government founded by the Europeans who stole the statue (and the continent) from its original owners.  (The only name the villain is given is “Van Cleve,” and Royce calls him “Van,” but the team refers to him throughout as “Van Cleve” as though that’s just his surname.  Maybe he’s Van Van Cleve?)

Jim flies out to Miami and works with a pair of performers to stage a scene for Van Cleve: one of them bumps into VC while wearing a skull-like “death mask,” then walks out in front of a van (not Cleve) driven by the other performer and gets “killed,” pulling the mask off so it seems like a premonition.  Then, on the plane (where future Blade Runner star Joanna Cassidy has a bit role as a stewardess), VC is seated next to Casey, playing a student of probability who’s been bitten by the gambling bug.  She uses a trick handbag to let VC see a pile of money in her bag, and then have it “disappear” when she opens it again.  (At least, it’s supposed to be the same kind of double-compartment trick bag as the attache case in “The Puppet,” but I see no way the bag as shown could accommodate a hidden compartment; instead it’s cheated by editing.)  Casey suggests that he’s precognitive.  Yes, it’s another entry in the annoying M:I subgenre of capers revolving around convincing a skeptic of something paranormal, which always strikes me as a bizarre approach.

Jim and Barney arrive on VC’s land and get shot at by his ranch manager (or whatever you call it) Ed — and hey, it’s Michael Ansara in a role that almost totally wastes his talent.  They explain they’re geologists, and as it happens, VC is an expert in geology, so he quizzes them and they know enough technical jargon to convince him they’re legit.  Barney’s actually playing the senior geologist, but Jim’s role is still the pivotal one; he acts shifty (and gets shushed by Barney), putting the idea in VC’s head that they’re keeping a secret.  VC calls up a government contact to look into them, and finds that their survey is top-secret.

VC has Ed follow Jim to the casino, where he turns out to be a compulsive and losing gambler.  (Willy’s running the roulette wheel and is probably rigging the outcome so Jim keeps losing, but we’re not told or shown how.)  So VC drops in on him and offers to pay his debts in exchange for the secret info about the survey.  Jim says he’ll think it over.  Meanwhile, at the craps table, Casey has won (again, no specifics how), and she shows VC the money in her handbag, just like in his “vision” on the plane.  VC invites her to dinner at his ranch.  While Jim and Barney rig his bedroom with hydraulic jacks under the furniture to simulate an earthquake (plus tape players in his bedside and car radios), Casey keeps him occupied by offering a rational explanation for his visions, saying that he has a computer brain that can calculate probabilities in advance.  Which I suppose ameliorates the silliness of the “convince the skeptic” approach a bit.  Anyway, VC soon sets aside the intellectual stuff and gets on with the making-out-with-a-pretty-girl part — but outside, someone is raising a gun to the window.  Is it one of the team?  No — it’s Royce!  He’s alive, though his face is burned (or at least pretty badly scraped).  And VC and Casey are in his line of fire!

But they move at the last second and the shot misses.  As VC and Casey hide, Royce bolts for it and Jim and Barney pursue, with VC’s men following farther behind.  Royce and the IMF boys get to their respective cars and a chase ensues — and then there’s a complete non sequitur where Royce just happens to drive into a “ghost town” (read: Western backlot), get out of his pickup, and exchange gunfire with Jim and Barney for a couple of minutes before ditching his gun and driving off again.  This is the only part of the episode that has anything to do with the title, and it’s a completely random insertion into the plot.  Its only relevance is to allow the team to get prints off his gun, but that was completely unnecessary.  Royce’s photo was included in Jim’s briefing packet, so they could’ve just had Jim get a look at his face as he fled the ranch.  This whole lengthy action sequence, the thing the whole episode is named after, serves no purpose except as padding.

Not to mention that Van Cleve figures out on his own that it’s Royce because his men recover a 9mm shell casing and VC knows that Royce swears by a 9mm Mauser.  (Now, a few minutes earlier, we saw Barney duck behind a horse trough whose thin wooden wall, no more than an inch thick, was sufficient to shield him from a bullet fired from Royce’s gun.  But now, Ed says that a Mauser could “put a slug through a 4-inch slab of green oak.”  Make up your mind, episode!)  Casey relays this info to the team, making the whole fingerprint thing even more pointless.  Jim says that if Royce kills Van Cleve — the only one who knows where the treasure is — the whole mission is shot.  And so the team proceeds with their mission. moving up the timetable, but otherwise taking no action of any kind to watch out for Royce or stop him.  Huh?  Huh?!

Jim shows up at VC’s door and accepts the bribe, telling him that they’ve discovered a fault line that’s about to set off a major earthquake which will destroy a nearby dam and flood the entire valley.  He offers credible explanations for why the dam can’t be drained or reinforced.  (Whatever this episode’s other flaws, writers Arnold & Lois Peyser sure seemed to know their geology.  But that’s a flaw in itself, if the writers are more preoccupied with geological jargon than cohesive storytelling.)  As soon as Jim leaves, Barney activates a rig in VC’s pool that roils the water, causes a crude dummy of a drowned VC to rise to the surface, and then dissolves it.  It’s a vision of his watery demise!

Now, you’d think that this would be enough, along with Jim’s warnings, to convince VC to race to his treasure stash and move it somewhere safer.  But no, we still have half an act left and haven’t gotten to do the earthquake gimmick yet!  So VC inexplicably sets aside these life-threatening concerns and goes sleepy-bye.  And the team waits three hours to let him settle — again, doing absolutely nothing to guard against Royce breaking in and killing the one guy who can lead them to the McGuffin.  So when they finally trigger the earthquake gimmick and the fake radio reports and scare VC into bolting for his stash, Royce is following right behind in his pickup, ahead of the team.  Oy.

So VC gets to the cave where he hid the statue — and even though they tried to disguise it by shooting from a different angle and through some brush, it’s obviously the same cave VC blew up in the first scene!  Oy oy oy.  And as it turns out, it conveniently didn’t matter that the team just ignored the Royce problem, because Royce doesn’t get into the cave until after VC has unearthed the treasure.  And Royce deliberately shot to miss before to spook VC into going for the treasure.  So this whole big threat Royce posed for half the episode wasn’t actually a threat to the mission at all.  *sigh*  So the team comes in and gets the drop on Royce before he can shoot VC, and that’s the anticlimactic end of the episode.

Oh, dear.  What an awful mess.  So much of it was unnecessary.  And not just the pointless Western shootout that inexplicably gave the episode its name.  The whole precognition thing was unnecessary too.  They could’ve gotten VC to lead them to the treasure strictly by using the geologist/earthquake ploy.  And while the precog gimmick wasn’t as silly as usual in these cases, since Casey provided a rational-sounding explanation with no appeal to the supernatural, it’s still a hoary cliche of this series and it’s strictly there to pad out the story and give Casey a role.  It’s like they had an idea too straightforward to fill an hour so they just tossed in whatever leftover bits they could to pad it out, without really bothering to fit them together cohesively.  This is hands down the worst episode of the season yet.  And it’s a shame to see it so close to the end of the series, especially when most of the season has maintained a pretty even keel in terms of quality, not superb but generally okay.  I just hope that the series finale is better than this.

“Imitation”:  An armored car is heisted by a gang of men led by Eddie (Thalmus Rasulala).  After fleeing the scene (with the sound effects editors really overplaying the screeching of tires as the cars slowly pull out and drive away), Eddie hands the goods off to a woman in the back of a limo, who opens the case to reveal a set of crown jewels.  In a stock tape scene (the one inside an office from “The Fighter,” but without the preceding exterior shot), Jim is informed that the loot is the Marnsburg crown jewels, scheduled to go on display at the UN in 3 days, and the suspect is master criminal Jena Cole (Barbara McNair — and the character name may have been chosen to suggest Lena Horne, whom McNair somewhat resembles).  Jim must retrieve the jewels within 72 hours.  (And Jena is pronounced like “Jayna.”  She doesn’t show any sign of Wonder Twin powers, however.)

The team’s plan involves switching the jewels with imitations, and breaking into the Marnsburg consulate’s safe.  They can’t cooperate openly with the embassy, both because Marnsburg is less than friendly to the US and because the embassy’s code chief Dunson (Lew Brown) is on Jena’s payroll.  They’re assisted by Duval (Ray Ballard), evidently a jeweler with sleight-of-hand skills.  And they are not joined by Casey, who’s completely absent from the episode with no explanation and no substitutions.  This is the only episode of the season with no female team member.

And maybe that’s because this time the mark is female.  At Jena’s establishment the Kit Kat Klub (or Kit at lub, depending on how literally you take the sign out front), Barney’s job is basically to play Casey’s usual role, the pretty face to hook the mark.  He brings a letter of introduction supposedly from her late brother and claims to have been his final cellmate, providing enough details to convince her.  The letter said to take care of him, and he straight up asks for a thousand bucks, which Jena obliges out of her brother’s memory.  This is so the sonic sensor device in Barney’s pocket can remotely overhear the safe tumblers and get the combination.  She says she has a 30-day return policy on loans with 20 percent interest, and gives him $800 and tells him she expects a thousand back in 30 days.  That’s actually 25 percent interest.  If she expected an 120% return on her loan to equal $1000, then the loan should’ve been $833.33.  Anyway, Jena has another kind of interest in Barney, as she notes to her henchman Boomer (Pernell Roberts).

While Jena’s backer Stevens (Charles McGraw) pressures Jena to hand over the jewels — which she won’t do until she gets paid — Barney breaks into her office and swipes 12 grand from her safe.  She discovers the theft and has her contact in the police department ID the fingerprints — it’s Barney.  Boomer and Eddie go to his apartment and find his safecracking gear and a blueprint of the consulate safe.  They realize he’s planning to rob the crown jewels, unaware that Jena’s men have already done so.  Meanwhile, Jim shows up following Barney, and when Jena brings him in for questioning, he says Barney owes him a lot of money and will be dead if he doesn’t repay it in a week.

But the team has sent the consulate a fake teletype saying that the stolen crown jewels were fakes sent in anticipation of a heist, and the real ones will arrive shortly.  Willy arrives as the Marnsburg official with the real jewels and puts them in the vault.  Dunson tells Jena about the alleged fakes, and the team replaces Jena’s jeweler with Duval, who swaps out the real jewel they bring him for a copy to “prove” the ones Jena has are fakes.  And her backer is still pressing her to turn over the jewels.  So she brings in Barney and persuades him to partner with her.  She tells him that if he’s loyal, there’s nothing she won’t do for him — and if he betrays her, there’s nothing she won’t do to him.

That night, Barney breaks into the consulate, with Dunson standing by to run interference with the guards.  The case Willy put in the vault with the fake crown jewels contains a radar-dish thingy that rises out of the lid (and there’s no way the thingy and its lifting motor could fit in the case as shown) and somehow lets Barney read the combination from the inside, or something.  So he gets in and removes the fake jewels that Jena thinks are real.  He takes them back to Jena, but insists on calling Jim and arranging to  hand over the jewels in exchange for not being killed, which is understandably urgent for him.  Jena tries to persuade him to wait and do it her way instead, telling him she loves him (that was sudden) and doesn’t want him to go.  But he’s all cold and insensitive, which somehow makes her like him more, or something.  She seems to accede and takes him out to the bar for a celebratory drink while Boomer guards the case — though Boomer actually swaps out the “real” (fake) jewels for the “fake” (real) jewels behind Barney’s back.  Then they let Barney walk out with the real jewels, thinking they’re sending him out with the fake jewels and signing his death sentence.  Jena’s somewhat conflicted, but her greed comes first.  Then Barney’s a bit conflicted as he sees Stevens and his goons arrive, no doubt to kill Jena when she hands over the fakes.  But he doesn’t do much about it.  The cops drive up and arrest everyone — off camera — and then Barney goes over to “take a look” and exchanges one final meaningful stare with a still-alive Jena before the cops take her away.  And that, abruptly, is the end of the episode and the end of the original Mission: Impossible.  (It’s also the last time we’ll ever see Willy Armitage, though Jim, Barney, and Casey will all return at least briefly in the 1988-9 revival series.)

Well, it’s better than “The Western,” to be sure.  Not a top-notch episode, but a moderately good one, which is pretty representative of the season as a whole.  It was a rare episode for this season in that it tried to establish a bit of a romance for one of the main characters (the last time a team member actually bonded with a mark, it was a guest agent in “The Question”), but it’s very half-hearted about it, more a slight loss of detachment than the deeper involvements we’ve occasionally gotten in seasons past with episodes like “Elena,” “The Short Tail Spy,” “Nicole,” “Lover’s Knot,” “Decoy,” “Squeeze Play,” or “Cat’s Paw.”  So it’s not up to the level of those excellent episodes, but it’s a plus by this season’s standards.  And Barbara McNair is a major plus as well, a lovely actress with a lively, dynamic performing style that’s enjoyable to watch.

So there you have it — the last episode of the series.   It’s not really the end, though, since there’s still my season overview to follow, and a full-series overview after that.  And it’s only a couple of weeks until the first season of the 1988 revival comes out on DVD, so hopefully Netflix will make that available before long.  And who knows?  I might even cover the movies at some point, although they have very little in common with Mission: Impossible beyond the title.

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Home again, home again

I’m back home now, and the drive back was almost as bad as the drive out.  I had a few hours of clear skies in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania, but it was raining by the time I got off the Turnpike and it just got worse from there.  Just before dark fell, I reached Cambridge again and tried to get a room at the same motel as before, but they wouldn’t take the coupon from the booklet you can pick up at freeway rest stops, and the baseline price was more than twice as much.  The clerk told me that none of the area motels would take the coupons that day because of the imminent start of hunting season in the area (yikes).  And I already had a takeout meal cooling in the car in expectation of having a motel room to eat it in.  So I had to drive to a nearby parking lot, eat my dinner, then drive for another half-hour or so in the rain and dark, an experience I do not recommend, before reaching Zanesville and trying my luck with a motel there.  Hooray, they honored the coupons, although it wasn’t as good a place to stay as the other motel — no wifi, no continental breakfast.  (It did have a fridge and microwave, but I didn’t need them.)  And I didn’t get much sleep.  After that, I was only about three hours’ drive from home, but what with increasingly bad rain and fatigue, it wasn’t a pleasant journey, and I took a couple of long rest-stop breaks (one of them had to be long since I had to wait for the piping-hot vending-machine tea to cool down).  I couldn’t even listen to a CD to help keep me alert, since there was too much noise from the rain and my squeaky wipers.  I finally made it home, but I got rained on during the three trips it took to unpack my bags and bike from the car, and the strap broke off of a bag I liked because I put too much weight in it (which is why I needed three trips instead of two).  It was the reusable tote bag that came with my new printer as a greener alternative to plastic/foam packing.  A cool idea, but not too durable.

At least I had consistently good weather during my visit with family, though that just makes the horrible weather on both drives seem more unfair.  It was a good visit, but I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any more huge meals for a while.  I ate entirely too much over the trip, and not just due to Thanksgiving dinner and the Thanksgiving-leftovers brunch.  On Saturday I met my sister, my cousin, and their respective families in town for a museum visit preceded by lunch at a tapas bar, which involves getting a succession of small servings of stuff that are shared among the diners or kept to oneself as preferred.  I ordered at least one more course than I should have, and came away rather stuffed.  But just a few hours later came cousin-in-law Mark’s early birthday dinner, which entailed a large number of German foodstuffs.  Even though I’ve lived my entire life in Cincinnati, a town that’s historically had a large German population, this was my first exposure to German cuisine.  A lot of it, while surely well-prepared, wasn’t really to my taste, but I really enjoyed the sauerbraten, which was wonderfully tender beef in what was described to me as a kind of sweet-and-sour sauce.  I never liked Asian sweet-and-sour sauces, so I wasn’t expecting to like this, but it was excellent.  Still, on top of everything else, I was full to bursting by the end of it.

And then this morning, after leaving the motel, I made the mistake of going to Denny’s for breakfast.  Don’t get me wrong, the food was excellent; I ordered a pair of seasonal pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes and they were delicious, as one would expect from pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes.  But there was just too dang much of it.  There are limits to how much good food I can stand.  I think I’m going to try to eat very lightly for the next few days.

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Tired after Thanksgiving

It’s been an eventful few days.  I set out on Tuesday to drive the 500+ miles to the family Thanksgiving gathering, and it was horribly rainy the whole time, much more so than the weather forecast suggested.  I almost decided to turn back and try again the next day, but it’s just as well I didn’t, since it was still rainy Wednesday — though not as bad.  I only made it four hours Tuesday before the rain started to get even worse and I stopped at a motel, but on Wednesday I managed to make it to cousins Barbara & Mark’s house just around sunset, and in time for dinner, which was my first experience with jambalaya.  Now I know what that is.

Well, if I remember.  The subsequent couple of days have been kind of a blur.  A big group breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, then the huge dinner, which was very early in the afternoon so we could wait a while and then have pie.  In addition to all the various traditional fixings at dinner, including roasted and smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, creamed pearl onions, cranberry relish, etc., there were four kinds of pie — pumpkin, apple, mincemeat, and pecan.  I had a half-sized slice of each.  Quite an impressive feast.

And then we had a lot of it again at brunch this morning, which was an even larger group than the 11 we had last night, since one more cousin and her husband and son dropped by.  That included turkey hash and pumpkin coffee cake.

This afternoon, to burn off some of those calories, a half-dozen of us went on a bike ride, for which I brought my bike with me in the car.  I haven’t ridden in a while, so I’m out of shape, but I actually managed to complete two rides — a one-and-a-quarter-mile “warmup” ride with lifelong cyclist Uncle Harry, and then another ten miles with the group, mostly on a hiking path through the woods.  There were some rough patches that scared me a little, but I only almost fell down twice.  It was a much more challenging ride than I’d anticipated, and it was exhausting, but I’m impressed at myself that I pulled it off.

And it’s good that I burned off a lot of calories, since we had another big group dinner (only 9 of us this time) tonight, consisting of turkey stew (or maybe a very hearty soup) and bread with brie.  And then more pie.  That was good.

But it’ll be a relief not to have a big organized breakfast tomorrow.  And some of us will be eating out for lunch — at something Spanish called a tapas bar, which will be my first experience with that — followed by a museum visit.  Then another big meal, apparently, to celebrate cousin-in-law Mark’s birthday (though I think it’s being celebrated early while the folks are in town).

I’ll probably be setting out for home again on Sunday — and the forecast calls for more rain for my ride home, even though it’s been beautiful and sunny since I arrived.  Well, the forecast on the way up greatly underestimated the precipitation; hopefully this one is overestimating it.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Speed”/”The Pendulum” (spoilers)

November 24, 2011 1 comment

Yes, now we speed the pendulum, for the end draws ever nearer… umm….  Never mind.

“Speed”: We open in San Francisco — not just for the tape scene, but the whole episode this time.  Two men in a truck rip off a chemical company and report to mobster Sam Hibbing (Claude Akins) that they’ve now cornered the speed (amphetamine) market.  Jim gets the tape in a trainyard (I guess they don’t need a San Fran landmark when the whole episode’s set there) and is tasked with finding the amphetamine stash before it hits the street and putting Hibbing out of business.  Hibbing intends to auction the stolen speed off to the highest-bidding distributors.  Like last week, Jim’s plan involves using the gangster’s daughter, this time Margaret Hibbing (Jenny Sullivan), an avid motorcyclist who’s also become a speed addict to escape from the pain of her regular beatings at her abusive father’s hands, and to punish him at the same time.  Margaret is being pursued romantically by Snelling (Ross Hagen), the man who devises clever ways of delivering Hibbing’s drugs to the buyers; but Margaret doesn’t reciprocate his interest (logical, given her history of abuse by the dominant male in her life).  Barney’s mustache is back and Casey spends the apartment scene with her body hidden behind a movie projector — was this shot early in the season (while Lynda Day George was still pregnant) and held back until nearly the end?

Barney plays a New Orleans mob representative making a deal with one of Hibbing’s regulars, Dayton (Charles Bateman), to provide financial backing for the auction.  Meanwhile, Willy rigs Margaret’s motorcycle before she goes out for a ride, and all the exterior location shooting makes a point of showing off that they’re honest and for truly in San Francisco, complete with a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  Out in front of a location which IMDb informs me is the Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, Jim triggers the gizmo Willy planted to knock out her motorcycle engine, so they can knock her out and replace her with Casey disguised as Margaret.  She rides to meet daddy Hibbing and let him see how high she is before leading him on a lengthy chase through the streets of San Francisco (gee, that’d make a cool name for a TV show), as if they hadn’t already driven home enough that they’re actually shooting there.  The chase culminates with a staged crash that leaves Casey-as-Margaret “injured” on the pavement, but Hibbing is only concerned with removing the drugs from his daughter’s handbag so the cops won’t find them.

The hospital scene that follows is on the soundstage back at Paramount, but they’ve stuck a backdrop of San Fran in the window, with the Palace of Fine Arts serving as the highly visible landmark du jour.  Hibbing takes his time coming to visit, and is only concerned with checking “Margaret” out so she won’t reveal anything incriminating while on medication.  He discovers that “Margaret” has seen the light and a friend of hers — Jim — is going to help her get clean.  But Hibbing sends Jim away and threatens “Margaret” with being sent away somewhere hellish if she doesn’t behave.  Casey is surprised when a disreputable-looking biker type shows up at her door and leaves upon seeing Hibbing there.  Casey can only say she doesn’t know him.

But he comes back later and it’s clear he’s not only Margaret’s pusher but her lover, and he conveniently refers to himself in the third person so we and Casey know he goes by Zinc (Jesse Vint).  And he must be high himself, since he can’t tell from kissing “Margaret” that she’s wearing a latex mask.  He gives her drugs and pushes her (so to speak) to take them while he watches, which apparently is his fetish.  Luckily, Jim was alerted about this guy when Casey called earlier, and he now arrives to confront Zinc.  A fight ensues.  Zinc flees and Jim pursues, but loses him.  He goes to the real Margaret for information about Zinc, but she won’t tell him, no matter how much he urges her that he’s trying to help her — and he’s disappointed when she asks for drugs in exchange for the information.  It’s always nice to get these rare moments when the team members engage honestly with people rather than trying to trick them.

Once Casey/Margaret gets out of the hospital, Hibbing sends Phalen to investigate the air shipping service Jim’s character owns, and learns from disgruntled employee Willy about Jim’s money troubles and his violent temper which got him a decade in Leavenworth for killing a fellow officer in a fight.  (When Phalen asks how long Willy’s been with Jim, Willy answers, “on and off, two, three years.”  Would’ve been a nice in-joke if he’d said six years, on and off.)

Barney’s financial backing (with undetectable counterfeit money) lets Dayton win the auction, but Barney insists the drugs be in New Orleans by morning, a tricky proposition.  Hibbing needs to call in Snelling for the special job.  But Casey, getting a signal from Barney, has already called Snelling and invited him over, pretending that Margaret has finally warmed to him romantically.  When Snelling arrives, Casey signals Jim and then starts acting ultra-trippy.  Jim barges in and finds her spacing out with Snelling, then finds her pills (presumably the ones Zinc gave her, now repurposed).  She claims Snelling provided them, and Jim beats the crap out of him, then injects him with that old standby, the drug that simulates death.  With Snelling “dead,” Hibbing has lost his delivery man and is potentially out millions of dollars — but he has Jim on the hook for murder and pressures him to deliver the goods in Snelling’s place.  This will let Jim and the team follow him right to the drugs.  And the location porn isn’t done yet, since they’re in a warehouse near the east end of the Bay Bridge.

However, the plan is in danger of Zinc poisoning.  (Come on, I had to make a zinc pun somewhere.)  Mr. Zn sneaks into the Hibbing house and starts aggressively making out with a reluctant Casey/Margaret, clutching her head hard enough to pull off the edge of her mask.  Hibbing shows up and is outraged at Zinc’s presence — until Zinc rips Casey’s mask off.  Casey’s stunt double makes a break for it, crashes through the window, and runs away; Zinc pursues, but she eludes him.  But Hibbing now knows there’s a sting going on, and he rushes to the warehouse to intercept Jim.  He gets the drop on Jim, but Barney and Willy were hiding in Jim’s van and come out with guns drawn, shooting both Hibbing and Phalen.  But we cut to a headline saying “Hibbing indicted,” so it must not have been a fatal shot.  Margaret is “no longer afraid” now that daddy’s put away, so she’s made a conveniently sudden recovery and is ready to turn her life around, just like that.

Okay, that last scene was way too easy, but it’s what you expect from ’70s TV.  Otherwise, this is a very strong episode, written by Lou Shaw.  It has a lot of elements that raise it above the routine: the extensive San Francisco location filming, the presence of Zinc as a dangerous spoiler to the team’s plans, the out-of-character moments with the team, and the Jim-Margaret confrontation adding some honest drama.  It’s very clear, however, that this episode was written around Lynda Day George’s pregnancy.  We only see her face in a few scenes at the beginning and end, and the only time we see any part of her below the shoulders (in the very final shot), it’s pretty apparent that she’s massively pregnant.  So this episode must’ve been shot very early in the season — probably the last one produced of the episodes with Casey in a diminished role and Barney with a mustache, and the first one before the Mimi (and Sandy and Andrea) episodes.  It also stands to reason that the San Francisco shooting would’ve been done at the same time as the season’s tape scenes (recall that the tape scenes are generally shot all at once and then cut into the episodes one by one), which would presumably have been early in the season.  So it’s odd that they delayed airing this episode until so near the end of the season.

“The Pendulum”: Okay, I have to confess before starting to watch the episode that I’m almost hoping it’s awful so I can say “‘The Pendulum’ is the pits!”  But that would be a Poe excuse for humor.

Dean Stockwell plays Gunnar Malstrom, who’s appropriately named, since his first act is to gun down US general Weston (Frank Maxwell) and bury him, abetted by his secretary/hitman Bock (Scott Brady).  He reports to a terrorist organization called the Pendulum Group, run by the Leader (Jack Donner), whose position Malstrom covets.  One of their members has gotten plastic surgery to look like the late Weston.  They’re ready to begin an operation code-named Nightfall, which will let them take over the US military.  Jim’s mission is to find out what Nightfall is and stop it.  The tape scene, surprisingly, takes place near Los Angeles City Hall, and is an extended version of the tape scene from, I believe, “Leona,” which actually seems to be in a winery or something rather than a bar as I thought at the time.

Casey’s already been on a date with Malstrom before the apartment scene, and on their second date, she confides that she’s recruiting him for her organization — though Willy shows up and tells her she’s overreaching herself, and she leaves a very confused Malstrom behind.  The next day, Barney shows up at his office and asks to be put in contact with the Pendulum leader (and plants a bug).  Malstrom denies knowing anything about it, and after Barney leaves, he has a henchman check him out.  The operator at Barney’s hotel, working with the team, takes a bribe from the henchman to let him hear Barney making plans with international allies, which leads Malstrom to send Bock out of the country to investigate.  Unable to get details on Barney, Malstrom goes out with Casey again (at the same restaurant owned by Mike Apollo from “Leona,” at least in the establishing shot) and convinces her to take him to her organization’s HQ (which is represented in exteriors by the UC San Diego library).  The team arranges for him to overhear Barney talking about killing him, so he sneaks out.  He ends up in an office overlooking an auditorium where Willy is speaking to a bunch of multinational extras about their operations, which involve stirring up war and crisis to drive their arms sales.  Malstrom is discovered and taken prisoner.

Malstrom is strapped to a chair (that’s secretly a polygraph) and Barney grills him, but then Casey comes in as his defender.  The polygraph registers his reactions to the various names and entities they mention, tipping them off that Nightfall is targeted at the military.  Indeed, the Pendulum leader and the fake Gen. Weston are arranging a meeting of the joint chiefs at Weston’s home.  But then Bock shows up to see them and says that Malstrom’s acting suspicious, going off to meet with Casey’s group as soon as he thought Bock was in Europe.  The leader orders Bock to go after Malstrom and kill him.  They then rig a briefcase bomb to blow up the military chiefs once they arrive.

The team keeps questioning Malstrom until the polygraph registers rises at the mentions of assassination and General Weston.  Then they bring him in to see “Chief” Jim, who casually drops this information to Malstrom’s surprise, and says that Pendulum’s plans get in the way of his group’s competing plans for US takeover.  He wants to acquire Pendulum and install Malstrom as its leader, if he’ll call off Nightfall.  Malstrom won’t cooperate, but he lets slip that Nightfall is already pretty far along.  With time of the essence, Jim advances to Phase 2, which will involve arranging Malstrom’s escape and rescue by a Bock impersonator, who if I interpret the credits right is named Manny (Don Reid).  The team doesn’t know the real Bock is outside closing in.  This could get complicated.

Casey tries to win Malstrom over and slips a tracker/mike under his lapel when she gets affectionate.  Oddly, from this point to the end of the act, over 2 minutes, is missing on the Netflix stream, although I found a more complete (though time-compressed) version on YouTube.  (And the “Report Problem” screen on Netflix doesn’t include an option for “part of it is missing.”)  While Willy takes Malstrom back to his cell, Jim goes in person to warn the man he thinks is Gen. Weston of the plot, although Jim’s using a fake name and credentials for some reason.  Fake-Weston and the Leader decide to ask Jim to sit in on the meeting so he’ll be blown up with the rest.

The Netflix stream picks up with the military leaders assembling in Weston’s study.  Back to the UCSD library, Bock is closing in and the Bock-postor is getting ready.  Real Bock spots fake Bock, then stalks fake Bock, then clocks fake Bock.  So when he starts shooting at Malstrom (and conveniently missing), Willy and the guards think it’s just part of the scheme and Willy fires back with blanks — until a guard gets shot and Willy realizes it’s the real Bock firing real bullets.  So he swaps guns and takes down the real Bock, apparently nonfatally.  Malstrom gets away in a car as planned and heads for the meeting, with Casey and Barney following.

Worth noting: during the meeting, one of the military chiefs says that one of the main issues on the table is the monitoring of “the Soviet submarines at Petropavlovsk.”  This is the first and probably only mention of the Soviet Union in the entire series.  In the past, various fictional People’s Republics have stood in for it.  But that just underlines the futility of trying to construct a coherent alternative geopolitics for the M:I universe.

When Malstrom arrives and demands to see the general, the fake Weston takes the opportunity to activate the briefcase bomb and head out with the Leader.  They confront Malstrom, who urges them to call off Nightfall, but they say the bomb is seconds away from detonating, and then, believing he’s defected to the rival group, they shoot him.  Hearing this through the bug, Barney alerts Jim, who identifies the briefcase as the bomb and tosses it out the window.  Cut to Malstrom getting taken into an ambulance, looking up to see the team staring down at him.  The end.

This is a moderately effective episode.  As I’ve said before, it’s a nice change in these last couple of seasons when they get away from the organized-crime stuff and do stories with an espionage/political/fate-of-the-world focus, even if it means concocting domestic terrorist groups.  I think season 6 only had one such episode, but there have been several in season 7.  And there’s some nice suspense, with Bock infiltrating and threatening the plan and with Jim unknowingly showing his hand to the bad guys.  It’s always cool when the bad guys are a step ahead of the IMF.

I also want to note that its use of a polygraph was unusually credible for TV.  They didn’t embrace the myth of the polygraph as a “lie detector,” but instead treated it as what it really is, a means of detecting stress reactions.  By noting his reactions and evaluating them in the context of their interaction, they’re able to identify what terms and concepts evoke a strong reaction.  It’s maybe a little more reliable than it would really be, but it’s still a much more plausible portrayal of a polygraph than we usually see on TV.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Fountain”/”The Fighter” (spoilers)

“The Fountain”: Matthew Drake (Cameron Mitchell) is in a computer center — no, wait, it’s a crime computer center, maintaining the syndicate’s records in a state-of-the-art way (keeping in mind that in 1973, state-of-the-art computers meant big wall banks with spinning tape reels).  On behalf of the organization, he’s auditing the activities of Tom Bachman, an aging rival gangster who’s not happy about the scrutiny.  Bachman is played by George Maharis in blatantly fake makeup to make him appear middle-aged, so it’s a safe bet that this caper will somehow involve the team temporarily de-aging him somehow as they did with William Shatner in “Encore” (so we can guess what fountain the title is referring to).  But that’s getting ahead of the story.  Bachman and his men pull guns on Drake and the techs, and Bachman steals two reels of incriminating computer records (after helpfully giving exposition to the audience about what’s on them), locks everyone in the back room, then sets off a bomb (while his henchmen are still in the room).  Later, in one of the many novelty shops where Jim has received tape briefings (this one featuring a lot of tall, slender cat statues), Jim is told that Drake was only injured and is hunting for Bachman and the records.  The team must get the records before Drake does.

This is the third episode this season to be set outside the US, though just barely, in Northern Mexico.  The team has tracked Bachman there and they intercept the pilot hired to fly him back to the US, with Barney taking the pilot’s place and meeting Bachman in a local bar.  In a rather contrived setup for later, Bachman asks what kind of plane Barney has and Barney describes it right down to the color, while the barman listens in.  They fly off and Barney fakes engine trouble, then knockout-needles Bachman; upon landing, they partially rouse him and play a tape of plane-crash sounds.

Drake, whose left hand has been crippled and covered by a black glove, follows Bachman’s trail to the bar and pays the barman to tell what he heard, though Drake’s henchman Dawson (Luke Askew) would rather beat it out of him.  The barman tells all about the yellow single-engine plane that Barney so contrivedly described earlier.  Drake clenches his single gloved hand and professes his desire to hunt down Bachman and take revenge.  “He tasks me, and I shall have him!”  Well, no, he doesn’t actually say that, but with the one glove it is kind of a Khan-like moment.

Bachman awakens near the simulated wreckage of the plane and sees Barney bandaging a simulated broken leg and making a crutch from a (not-simulated) branch.  They limp through the woods and Barney leads them to a mansion where the rest of the team (and at least one extra) are pretending to be members of some sort of religious retreat.  Jim and Casey tell Bachman that Barney’s being tended to, but they don’t need doctors.  They say they’re members of the Fellowship of the Golden Circle, which is actually a “Moebius circle” with no end — though Lynda Day George pronounces it as a “Mowaybus circle.”  After Bachman comments on Casey’s old-fashioned name (she’s going by Charity) and she says it was common when she was a girl, Willy comes in with a “wounded” raccoon (actually drugged) and Casey feeds it some special water locked in a cabinet (actually injecting it with an antidote out of Bachman’s sight), and the raccoon has a miraculous recovery.  After they leave, Bachman checks a dusty old book Casey was holding (they’re in a rather lovely library set that I don’t recall them using before, perhaps borrowed from some other series) and finds a picture of her in it; the copyright date is 1861.

Bachman confronts Casey about this, but she’s evasive.  Everyone here is evasive, but very bad at it, since they keep leaving proof of their miracles lying around.  Willy has a photo of himself as a WWII pilot (though it’s an obvious cut-and-paste job, and I mean that in the literal pre-Photoshop sense), and when pilot Barney shows up with his broken leg healed, Jim tries to claim his leg was never broken.  Eventually Bachman spies on Casey going through a secret panel and follows her down to a grotto containing a spring.  He gets her to confess that the water gives healing and immortality provided she drinks every 48 hours, otherwise she swiftly reverts to old age and dies.  So she has to stay here, but she would like to leave with Bachman if they take some special water with them.  Jim shows up and, seeing that he’s onto the secret, lets him drink the water (after warning him that it’s a complex chemical compound with side effects).  Plus a knockout pill (the side effects) so they can dye his hair and inject paraffin into his wrinkles to make him look younger for a week.  And Casey puts on a mask of extreme mummification (probably a reuse of the makeup from “alien” Casey in last season’s “The Visitors”) under a mask of her normal face.

Meanwhile, Drake’s men have found the plane wreck and tracked down the mansion, and shortly after Bachman awakes and sees his new youth, the henchmen barge in and hold them all at gunpoint.  But this isn’t actually a disruption of the plan, since Bachman’s intention is to mend fences with Drake by offering him the water to cure his hand.  He goes with them and brings Casey and a sample of the water as proof.  Even though an earlier scene had Drake implicitly giving the bloodthirsty Dawson permission to kill everyone but Bachman, the goons simply leave without harming anyone, making the whole thing a fakeout.  The team follows them to Drake’s place.  Drake disbelieves Bachman’s story, but Bachman proves it by denying Casey the water.  While no one’s looking, she sprays her outer mask with a chemical that dissolves it and exposes the mummy mask beneath, and takes a pill to feign death.  Convinced, Drake agrees to mend fences, and Bachman agrees to hand over the records.  They go to where the records are hidden, but the team has followed and Jim and Barney come in with the cops.

This was the second episode in a row written by Stephen Kandel, and it’s bewildering that he’d go from the brilliant “The Question” to this mediocre caper.  The story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  How did they know that Bachman would be willing to make amends with Drake once he found a way to heal Drake’s hand?  I mean, this is the same guy who recently tried to kill Drake and sacrificed two of his own henchmen to do so.  I guess the idea is that it’s to get Drake to call off his vendetta, but still, how could they really have known he’d go for it?  It just seems like a ridiculously convoluted way to find Bachman’s hiding place.  And the subplot of Drake’s men hunting down the team felt like a cheat, because it ultimately played right into the plan as though Jim had intended it all along, and the threat of the bloodthirsty Dawson turned out to be toothless.  Overall, it’s rather disappointing, and coming right after the best episode of the season — by the same writer, no less — makes it even more of a letdown.

“The Fighter”: Boxer Gunner Loomis (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.) is unhappy with the mobsters who control his contract, the ruthless Braddock (Joe Maross) and his weak-willed partner Mitchell (William Windom), and foolishly tells them he’ll talk to the feds if they don’t release him from his contract.  Unluckily for him, Braddock has already called in a hitman to take care of him.  (He tells the hitter to “make it look like a hit-and-run,” which is odd, given that Loomis is killed in the shower.)  Jim goes into a big white Greco-Roman building to get the tape in an office; it might be San Francisco City Hall again, but I’m not sure.  And wouldn’t a government building be a strange place for a secret government agent to get a secret message?  Anyway, the mission is to get the goods on Braddock and Mitchell.  Mitchell is the weak link, a formerly honest promoter whom Braddock corrupted.  And his daughter Susan (Jenifer Shaw) is in love with one of Braddock’s boxers, Pete Novick (Geoffrey Deuel).  Jim plans to take advantage of that relationship, while protecting the two young innocents.

While sweet, innocent Susan gleefully watches her boyfriend and another man inflict cumulative, incurable neurological impairment on one another, Jim and Barney rip off the syndicate’s payroll.  Later, Barney shows up in Braddock’s office with an offer to buy out Pete’s contract, and the amount he offers is the exact amount just stolen.  Yes, he’s moving in on Braddock’s operation and is aggressive about it.  (And, bizarrely, he’s using the alias “Spanner.”)  Meanwhile, Casey plays reporter to interview Pete, and while he may be an “innocent,” he’s kind of a jerk, blowing off a date with sweet, innocent Susan to take the seductive blonde reporter up to his pad for an, err, interview.  (Also he’s got a “look the other way” policy toward his promoters’ corruption.)  But Willy’s rigged Pete’s car with remote servos and given Casey the controller, and she sticks him with a drug that makes him woozy for exactly 2 minutes and then knocks him out (oh, come on!), just long enough to see motorcyclist Willy speeding headlong toward him and then passing out as Casey remote-steers the car out of Willy’s way.  They stage an accident scene which Casey photos, and then she comes to him the next day to tell him he killed the guy and she’s blackmailing him on Barney/Spanner’s behalf.  He goes to Braddock and Mitchell for help and they say they’ll take care of it.  Then Willy shows up as a federal agent who warns them about Spanner’s aggressive new organization and wants them to testify against him, turning to them as the lesser of two evils.  Braddock will have none of it, but Mitchell is curious.  (And Braddock needs a better secretary.  Both Barney and Willy were able to barge into his office after he refused to see them.)

Later, Susan comes to Pete, angry at him for missing their date, but he confides in her about the “dead” biker and she’s devastated.  (Nasty thing for the team to do to these innocents.)  She goes to her father Mitchell for help, but Mitchell doesn’t want her dating this tainted boxer and demands she leave him.  After she leaves, he asks Braddock to go ahead and let “Spanner” have Pete’s contract, but Braddock decides he’d rather kill Pete, a decision Mitchell’s uneasy with.

The team has Braddock’s phone lines tapped, so when he tries to call someone whom I guess you’d call a talent agent for hitmen, they intercept the call — and we see the return of voice artist Walker Edmiston to the team.  And though he’s credited as “Rawls,” Jim calls him “Dave,” which is the same name he used back in “Movie” (where he was credited as Dave Waley).  So I think we can count Dave as a recurring team member, the first since Mimi.  Dave says Braddock’s preferred hitman is on vacation or something, and sends in Jim as a substitute.  As if bringing Edmiston back weren’t enough, we get another bit of the continuity that’s unique to this season: the alias Jim uses, hitman Dave Riker (another Dave), is the same identity he used back in “Boomerang.”

Jim agrees to kill Pete, and Braddock wants to come and watch just to make sure of the new guy, insisting the reluctant Mitchell come as well.  Jim arranges to blow Pete’s house up with a bomb.  But elsewhere, Willy and Barney intercept Susan and take her in for “questioning,” and Casey dons a Susan mask and goes to Pete’s house, to the horror of the watching Mitchell.  Casey knocks Pete out and Willy carries him to safety just before the bomb blows, but as far as Mitchell knows, Braddock’s hit has claimed his daughter’s life.  (By the way, isn’t it rather rude of the team to save Pete’s life by destroying all his worldly possessions?  I hope the government compensates him.)

You’d think this would be enough to get the devastated Mitchell to testify, and Willy comes to make the offer, but he still won’t do it.  Not until Jim shows up for his payment from Braddock and drops a comment about another hit he was asked to do.  Braddock thinks it’s just a mixup, but Mitchell thinks the hit was meant for him.  To prove otherwise, Braddock promises to kill Jim and asks Mitchell to go get him.  But Jim intercepts Mitchell at gunpoint and takes him into the empty boxing arena, telling him Braddock did hire Jim to kill Mitchell.  But Braddock comes in and almost spoils things by shooting Jim; Willy intercepts him just in time and the shot goes wild, and then Willy comes in so it seems to Mitchell that Willy fired the shot.  With Willy holding hitman Jim at gunpoint, Mitchell promises to testify.  So his daughter’s death didn’t do it, but a threat to his own life did?  Some loving father.  (Did I mention he smacked her when they argued earlier?)  Anyway, we wrap up with the team explaining things to the young couple, saying that Mitchell will still need to do time but it’ll be easier for him if he gets to see his daughter.

Another routine episode, but a reasonably well-written one.  It’s yet another Stephen Kandel script (this time in collaboration with Nicholas E. Baehr), and it’s certainly an improvement over last week’s, though nowhere near the level of “The Question.”  Still, it’s a solid outing overall.

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Thoughts on DOCTOR WHO: LOST IN TIME

I’ve just belatedly finished watching the Doctor Who: Lost in Time: The Hartnell Years DVD I have out from Netflix.  I’ve already watched the first of the two Patrick Troughton discs, but then I learned about the Hartnell one and figured I should see that right away, because it should’ve come first (Hartnell, of course, was the original Doctor, Troughton the Second Doctor).  Anyway, the set is a compilation of the surviving fragments of DW serials that were erased by the BBC back when they did that sort of thing.  The Hartnell disc contains one complete story, “The Crusade,” though only the first and third episodes survive and the other two are only in reconstructed audio form (without even any production clips or text descriptions).  I tried reading the relevant portions of the novelization as I listened, so I’d know what was going on, but it didn’t work well; even though the novelization was by the same person who wrote the episodes, David Whitaker, it substantially restructured the story and the dialogue so I couldn’t really follow along.

Still, “The Crusade” is a very impressive serial, surely one of the finest DW serials of its day if not in general, and it’s a shame the whole thing doesn’t survive.  It’s one of the pure historical adventures that they did roughly every other serial in the Hartnell era, with the Doctor and his companions encountering King Richard the Lion-Hearted and Saladin during the Third Crusade.  Whitaker’s writing for the historical figures in the story is borderline-Shakespearean, not quite iambic pentameter but very elegant and poetic and clever.  And the actors, including Julian Glover as Richard, Jean Marsh as his sister Joanna, and Bernard Kay as Saladin, are definitely Shakespearean in their training and performance.  It’s a delight to watch, not just for the classy performances and beautiful language, but the richly drawn characters and intense drama among them.  It’s such a striking departure from the clunkiness of a lot of the more sci-fi-oriented serials of early DW.  In fact, the downside of “The Crusade” is that it becomes a lot less interesting when the focus turns away from these grand historical figures and their worldshaking concerns to the more petty escapades of the Doctor and his companions, which by necessity unfold on the periphery of historical events.  It’s like we’re getting to see scenes from an unwritten Shakespeare play about Richard I, but then we don’t get to see the final act because we have to focus on the Doctor and companions getting reunited and back to the TARDIS.  It’s kind of a letdown.  But it’s still an impressive serial overall.

The drawback with “The Crusade,” of course, is that it features Arab/Mideastern characters played by white actors in makeup, and there are plenty of Orientalist stereotypes on display, such as the evil emir who abducts Barbara and the desert bandit who tries to kill Ian.   Saladin himself is written and portrayed as a nuanced, dignified figure (and Richard as a flawed, often petulant man), yet the makeup on Bernard Kay, the dark face paint and angular eyebrows, makes him look more like a 1960s Klingon than a believable Salah ad-Din.  (One nice touch is that when the actors say “Saladin,” they emphasize the third syllable so that it does sound a lot like “Salah ad-Din.”)

The DVD also contains the only three surviving episodes of the 12-part epic “The Daleks’ Master Plan” and the final episode of the rather silly “The Celestial Toymaker.”  It’s a shame that so much is missing, but we do get to see surviving footage of Adrienne Hill as Katarina, the first companion to die (though she was only in 3-4 episodes in all); Nicholas Courtney (the future Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) in his first DW role as Bret Vyon; and Jean Marsh (again) as Bret’s sister Sara Kingdom, the second companion to die (though she was only in this storyline so it’s questionable whether she was officially a companion).  It’s good to be able to see these characters in action after only reading about them before.  The villain, Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), is not so impressive, however.  The concept of his makeup design was interesting; he was evidently conceived as a man of the year 4000, a mix of all modern ethnic types — he had tightly curled blond hair, dark skin, and epicanthic eyes.  Unfortunately the makeup was no more convincing than Saladin’s, and it still comes off as an Orientalist stereotype, or at best kind of silly-looking.  There’s also a council of alien villains who are kind of bizarre, but interestingly differentiated by body language as well as makeup — one walks with his arms stuck out to the sides, one has a peculiar bouncing gait, etc.  Some are a bit silly in execution, but still, I’m surprised none of the books or audios have followed up on any of these races.

Not much to say about the “Toymaker” episode.  Judging by the novelization and other stuff I’ve read, the serial was rather weak and fraught with problems; it was caught in the transition between script editors and producers and thus went through several very different drafts, and it was written in such a way as to cover up Hartnell’s absence (probably due to his increasing illness by this stage) through the rather silly expedient of having the titular Toymaker, a godlike trickster anticipating Star Trek‘s Q, render the Doctor invisible and inaudible except for a badly double-exposed hand to  move the pieces on a game board.  It’s really only notable in that the Toymaker was played by Michael Gough, the future Alfred from the Burton and Schumacher Batman films.

Some of the best stuff is in the special features, especially the compilation of “off-screen” footage (meaning footage obtained by pointing a film camera at a TV screen) which includes fragments from various episodes.  The compilation includes several key departures that I’m glad to have seen.  First is a portion of one of the missing “Daleks’ Master Plan” episodes, specifically the very intense moments leading up to Katarina’s self-sacrifice; the actual moment itself is lost, but the buildup is powerful stuff, knowing what’s going to happen.  There’s also a portion of “The Savages” with companion Steven deciding to leave the Doctor and saying his goodbyes — and, most importantly, the last moments of “The Tenth Planet” leading up to the Doctor’s first regeneration!  It’s remarkable to finally get to see that pivotal moment in TV history, the very first time the Doctor regenerated (or “renewed himself,” as I think it was called at the time).

I wish they’d make more complete sets of these.  I gather that every missing episode of Doctor Who has been fully reconstructed in audio, thanks to fans tape-recording the show off the air.  And I’ve seen reconstructions using production photos or stills taken from TV (“telesnaps”).  I gather there have been audio CD releases of all the missing episodes with narration added, but I’d like to see video reconstructions with the complete soundtracks, stills, surviving film fragments, and text descriptions as needed — to get as close to the original experience as possible.

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Watch ya gonna do?

The wristwatch I’ve had for a number of years now was a Casio “G Shock,” a brand of watch that was sold to me on the grounds that it was extremely durable, firefighters swore by it, etc.  (Although the instruction book said not to get it wet, as it turned out.)  I’m not a firefighter or a particularly rough-and-tumble person, but I was sick of watches that invariably broke at the points where the band connected to the watch, so I got it for the much sturdier construction at that point.

However, the wristband itself was made of a resin that wasn’t nearly as durable.  I’d long since had to replace the little cuff thingy that kept the longer part of the band from flapping around with an elastic hairband, and the material between the peg holes was tearing through so that the watch kept getting looser on my wrist.  I tried going to the place I bought it to see if I could get it repaired, and they said they’d have to send it to the manufacturer.  I tried a jewelry store, the one that successfully managed to disassemble it to put a new battery in (which turned out to be far more difficult than the jeweler anticipated), and they said they couldn’t do it.

Then I decided to see if I could find a replacement wristband online and maybe do the replacement myself.  And as I began examining how the band connected to the watch, I realized it was familiar.  I remembered that I’d replaced the band once before.  The original band had broken too, but in a different way — I remember now that it cracked laterally, across the width of the band.  And I’d replaced it with the band that was coming apart now.  I don’t even remember how long ago it was, but I bought the watch in July 2002, so I’ve been through two wristbands in nine years.

So I found the replacement band online, but I couldn’t order it yet, because I was missing something I needed: a precision screwdriver, a Phillips head small enough to undo the screws on the watch.  The last time I changed the band, I realized, I must’ve used the set of precision screwdrivers my father had — a set of steel-handled screwdrivers of various sizes, all in a plastic box with a clear lid.  I always figured they must’ve been fairly expensive tools, and I was hoping I could find something reasonably similar for a more modest price.  As a long shot, when I was at the grocery store, I decided to check the hardware aisle — and there I found a set of precision screwdrivers just like my father’s, costing a grand total of… $3.99.  Oh.  Okay.  You learn something new every day.

So with the screwdrivers obtained, I ordered the watchband, and it came yesterday.  I began trying to take apart the watch this morning.  It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get one of the band halves free… but then other pieces of the watch’s casing started to break off.  I guess they’d grown brittle with age and were being held in place by the adjoining bits, so when I loosened those bits, they fell off.  There was no way of putting them back together.  They didn’t impair the watch’s function any, but I figured losing bits of the casing might let moisture and stuff get in.  And there was just so much accumulated gunk inside the pieces where the band connected…

Anyway, I figured I should just go ahead and buy a new watch.  So I went to the department store and did so.  I wasn’t sure what kind of band I wanted; I don’t trust resin anymore and metal is uncomfortable.  The clerk at the jewelry counter offered me a watch that had a fabric band with a Velcro closure.  I was skeptical at first, but it was pretty comfortable, and I realized it would be infinitely adjustable — and there’s no little cuff thingy that could break off.  So I went for it.  Although now it’s not feeling so comfortable.  I belatedly realized the fabric of the band is a little rough, and I hope it doesn’t irritate my skin too much.  I’d hate to have to return it and try to make another decision about what watch to buy.  It’s not easy to do.

But I should be able to return the replacement watch band I turned out not to need.  At least, the receipt says “Returns are easy!”  Hopefully that will turn out to be true.

By the way, I’ve just tried the backlight feature, and instead of lighting up the background behind the digits, it lights up the digits themselves.  Maybe that saves power?  Anyway, it’s kind of weird seeing the digits in negative like that.

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