SF Obscure: Ace of Wands

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Ace of Wands is an ITV fantasy show broadcast in 1971 to 1972. It’s technically a children’s/ family show, but it’s fairly sophisticated and one that held my interest. Ace of Wands ran for three series, however, only the third series remains. At the time, ITV wiped old series due to the high cost of production materials and storage.

Ace of Wands focuses on a stage magician named Tarot who also has psychic powers and works to develop his paranormal skills. In series three he is assisted by a sibling team Chas, a photographer, and Mikki a journalist. Mikki is interested in studying the paranormal and she is more readily able to accept the various paranormal happenings. She also appears to have rather strong potential abilities herself. Chas is the resident skeptic. I felt like his character was a bit extraneous  (perhaps a third wheel in the Tarot/Mikki dynamic) but I didn’t dislike him.  There is also an owl named Oxymandius. The Tarot character made me think of the show Jonathan Creek and I wondered if those writers were influenced by it.

There are six stories in season three, running about three or four half hour episodes each. The two that stood out for me were Peacock Pie and The Beautiful People. Peacock Pie features a man with very strong powers of suggestion: making people dream certain images, imagine blank paper is really banknotes, and getting people trapped in their own illusions. Mr. Peacock is a fascinating villain because he’s complex; you actually empathize with him in feeling trapped in a world that can’t really understand his power. What makes this show effective, despite few props and limited effects budget, is the acting-creating full bodied characters that move the story along. It’s almost like a stage play in its sparseness but effective.

The Beautiful People is another one that I like; mainly because it’s so odd with an unexpected ending. Tarot and company encounter a group of siblings who run invite -only street fairs for elderly people and people in need. It’s not nearly as altruistic as it appears. The siblings are pleasant on the surface with an ominous tone that underscores everything they do. This episode was written by PJ Hammond who later wrote for Sapphire and Steel so it has that sort of style.

I have to admit, I also like the Ace of Wands  theme song. It’s got that catchy hippies early seventies vibe and sticks in your head. The show ended abruptly to be  replaced by the original UK version of The Tomorrow People.  (which I covered in an earlier post) I liked this show better than The Tomorrow People.  It’s a bit dated, but I had a good time watching.

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SF Obscure: Cosmic Slop

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Cosmic Slop was a 1994 TV anthology series on HBO featuring three short black science fiction movies. (I have also seen the broadcast date listed as 1995.) It features three short “Space Traders” based on the Derrick Bell short story; “The First Commandment” and “Tang”. It’s kind of a Twilight Zone vibe with George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic during the intros. (It’s as bizarre in the way only George Clinton can be.)

Space Traders is probably the most well known mainly for its political satire, star studded cast, and is the strongest to of the three. Robert Guillame plays Golightly, a black conservative cabinet member, who is asked to join the President’s discussion of a trade agreement. Aliens have come to Earth and offered gold, technological advances, etc to the US if it will turn over all of its black people to the aliens. A national referendum is held to decide the fate of the US black population. There is a resistance movement let by civil rights pioneers as well as another attempt by corporations to use advertising to swing the vote. It is a deep, thought-provoking discussion confronting the political realities of black life in the US. At times its distressing to watch; at other times its almost over the top satire. If there is one criticism, I think its that some actors seem to go with a dramatic interpretation of their roles and others go for broad parody which makes it a bit uneven. Robert Guillame keeps it all together because he’s a fantastic actor. It’s definitely worth watching.

The First Commandment focuses on a catholic priest  and a statue of the Virgin Mary that comes to life. This is a commentary on the cultural conflict within the church-being European in origin; yet largely third world in its parishioners and its traditions that incorporate tradition African beliefs. (Vodun). It’s interesting especially if you know something about religious rites, transatlantic slave trade and religion; otherwise it may not have as strong of an impact.

Tang, based on a story by Chester Himes, involves a couple in an abusive relationship and a mysterious package left at their door. It touches on the complex issues of racism and misogyny. It’s hard to watch, although the actors are brilliant. Chi McBride playing an unpleasant character was a shocker-I don’t usually see him in these type of roles.

*Thanks to author PJ Dean for telling me about Cosmic Slop. She write futuristic/SFR as well as multicultural historical romances. Check out her work.

(https://pjdeanwriter.weebly.com)

**It’s taken a while to post. I have been watching the new Lost in Space. Will take some time to see how I feel about it. They’ve cast a Captain Pike for the next season of Star Trek Discovery. Infinity War left me emotionally spent. I will go see the Solo movie. I might regret it, but I will go. Because.

***Nothing to do with SF but I love the Peaky Blinders.

SF Obscure: Hard Time on Planet Earth/Chaos on the Bridge

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Hard Time on Planet Earth was an American series broadcast for 13 episodes in 1989 starring Martin Kove. An elite alien military officer is sentenced to earth as his penalty for rebellion. He is given human form-much weaker than his older form-and sent to Earth to improve his violent behavior. (Or maybe curb his violent instincts or learn about goodness, it all gets a bit murky.) Anyway, he’s banished to Earth with an AI system called Control to monitor him. He’s given the name Jesse. Control  is a giant, floating mechanical eye. Jesse has to help people in need to get back into the Ruling Council’s favor.

Hard Time on Planet Earth is an adventure-of-the-week type of show. Jesse has to learn to survive on Earth. Most of the information he and Control rely on comes from television shows, so its not entirely accurate. There’s a heavy dose of comedy with commentary on modern (1989) consumer America.  In one episode he steals money from an ATM then turns himself in when he finds out its a crime. In another, he goes to Disneyworld. In yet another, Jesse joins the US Army. Along the way, he meets new people and becomes involved in their daily lives. The also spend a lot of time trying to think up ways to hid an giant floating AI eyeball.

Critics trashed it. It didn’t get much of an audience which is why it was canceled so quickly. Watching it again, it’s not nearly as bad as I remembered it. The floating eyeball is still dreadful; but some of the episodes are kind of charming and its has sort of a goofy but endearing element to it. There were actually quite a few well-known writers. Micheal Piller of Star Trek fame wrote a few episodes.  I won’t lie and pretend like it’s a hidden classic. Thirteen episodes pretty much covered the possibilities  of the “alien super soldiers in human bodies with floating eyeball partner” genre.

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I also got a chance to see Chaos on the Bridge on Netflix. It covers the backstory of the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the controversy that surrounded it. The infighting. The studio conflicts. The fans who were sure it was the end of the franchise. (Sound familiar) It’s only about a hour and worth the watch. If you haven’t already, watch it along with The Captains, which are William Shatner’s interviews with all the  actors who played captains in Star Trek, how they felt the role impacted their lives and careers.  (Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine) or if you prefer, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, and Kirk 2.0. It’s a Shatner production and very Shatner-centered, but still a lot of fun.

I plan to see Black Panther when it premieres in Japan this weekend. And apparently a reboot of Lost in Space is coming to Netflix. I’m not sure if it’ll be on Netflix Asia, but I might give it a watch.

SF Obscure: The Tomorrow People

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A few years ago, there was a TV show called The Tomorrow People which I only saw a few episodes of. It was a paranormal show in the midst of many paranormal shows, but in this case dealt more with telepathic and psychic sorts of powers. I remembered watching it and thinking…wasn’t there something like this before?

And I was correct. It was a remake-though really more of a re-imaging because the look and style is much different from the original.

The original The Tomorrow People was a British children’s SF show which ran from 1973 to 1979. The basic idea is that humans are reaching a new step of evolution and these new humans are developing various psychic powers- telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation  usually at the onset of puberty although a few are a bit older. Anyhow, there is an organization that tracks tomorrow people and helps them adjust. There is also a biological computer called TIM, and a secret base, and they sometimes deal with a galactic group that tracks telepathy all over the universe. The Tomorrow People (homo superior)  are fundamentally unwilling to kill and have to hide from those who want to exploit their powers. It was supposed to be the ITV answer to Doctor Who and it has that kind of SF, mystery, adventure sort of feel. The theme music is by Dudley Simpson who also did a lot of the Doctor Who music as well as the them music for Blake’s 7 and the very short lived Moonbase 3. 

It doesn’t age particularly well. Clothing. Hair. Limited budget and not-so-special special effects. The acting is…well…not exactly the best.  It does have a nostalgia value for a few episodes 🙂 And I have to admit, some of the plots were rather sophisticated and compelling.

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However, I realized this wasn’t even the version I was remembering. The Tomorrow People was revived in the 1990’s. It ran on Nickelodeon from 1992-1995. It’s similar to the original-though they had a psychic spaceship rather than the computer and they use their powers more freely, but still don’t kill. It’s one of the early roles for young Naomie Harris who has sent moved on to be Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, and an Academy Award nomination for Moonlight. 

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The newer 2013 version is more young adult than children’s show with edgier plot lines. Plus, the emergence of The Tomorrow People and the governement/military involvement is amped. It didn’t see very many episodes, but I think any alien invasions or Doctor Who-ish type plots are dropped.

Big Finish ran a brief audio drama series based on the original.

*By the time this finishes, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery will be finished and I can assess how I feel about it. I have been watching Star Trek: Voyager which I hadn’t seen in a while and forgot a lot of those first few seasons. It’s better than I remembered it even if there are a few clunker episodes. I also finally have a chance to watch Killjoys. It wasn’t broadcast overseas so I had to wait for Netflix. So far, it’s a fun one.

SF Obscure: Planet of the Apes TV

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So, I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday season. It was mostly time for family friendly viewing although I did get to see the Black Mirror Episode, Callisto, and Star Trek: Discovery is back for its second half. I love Discovery. This month also marks the 25th anniversary of Deep Space Nine-one of my favorite series of all time and my personal favorite Trek. And the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7-another of my favorites. Big Finish has released an anniversary audio adventure, which is on my order wishlist.I cannot wait. I love the Blake’s 7 audio series.

Anyway, I saw the DVD release for the latest new Planet of the Apes. I haven’t watched the newer ones because…. it just never really happened, but it reminded me of the original franchise and a faint memory of a TV show or an animated show. Turns out there was both a live action TV show and an animated show.

The live action TV series has two new astronauts stranded on future/parallel earth.  In this version, there are human villages-not quite as primitive as the original movies movies-ruled over by Apes as governors and guards. The two astronauts are assisted by another Ape who believes humans are capable of more. It’s a run of the mill action adventure with the planet of the apes spin. Entertaining, but not outstanding. It was, unfortunately, an expensive show and cancelled after 14 episodes.

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The animated series (RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES) was launched in 1975. It follows three astronauts ( one a woman this time) who land on earth in the year 3900 or so. Time travel is an accepted theory. In this version, the Ape future is a bit more sophisticated. Rather than the world created with more of an ape-like style, we have cars, apartments, airplanes. Humans can be hunted as sport or kept as pets.They do have a decree-that if humans are discovered to have language and sophisticated reasoning ability they are to be wiped out. I found it to be more engaging than the live action, if only because the themes were closer to the original. The assembly line animation with the old style block face templates is not my favorite, but getting past that, it’s a fairly good show.

SF Obscure: Alien Nation TV Movies

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I did a post long ago on ALIEN NATION. If you haven’t seen ALIEN NATION watch it before you read. 🙂 It focuses on a group of aliens, the Newcomers, whose slave ship crashes on Earth and they become part of the population of L.A. It’s a combination of SF and crime drama. The episodes follow two detectives, Matthew Sikes(human) and George Francisco(Newcomer) as they navigate the human and Newcomer (Tenctonese) worlds. The series only lasted one season, but there were a series of TV movies to continue the story.

DARK HORIZON begins where the series leaves off. George’s wife Susan and his daughter Emily are attacked with a engineered virus to exterminate Newcomers. All of the cast is back. Cathy, the Newcomer nurse, is a doctor now. (Newcomers adapt and learn quickly). Matt and George have to find a cure for the virus as well as deal with a Tenctonese agent, Ahpossno, sent by the Overseers, to reinslave them. It’s a good show. The two parallel plots are well paced and engaging-although the Overseer Agent plot takes over if only because the character of Ahpossno is engaging. I also liked the richer exploration of Tenctonese culture explaining its matriarchal origins and life before their enslavement.

BODY AND SOUL follows George and Matt as they investigate what appears to be a hybrid human-Tenctonese child. Because the Tenctonese are bred for adaptability, this may be the beginnings of a new race. This episode also explores the beginnings of Matt and Cathy’s sexual relationship and differing attitudes towards sexuality. It fairly heavy on the social commentary about sexuality and politics, but I think it does the job nicely while keeping and engaging plot.

MILLENNIUM follows George and Matt as they investigate a Tenctonese influenced cult that George’s son Buck falls in with. It’s entertaining, but lacks some of the strong social themes that gave the previous two its impact. Also, the characters of Buck and Emily, George’s kids, never seem to have a consistency to them. I am not sure if its the characters or the writing but their personalities seem to change with the plot, which makes their adventures less convincing. Still, it has its moments and the cult leader, Jennifer, really steals the spotlight.

THE ENEMY WITHIN focuses on a group of Tenctonese called the Eenos who are discriminated against and treated as untouchable. They were forced to do the worse jobs of waste extraction and sometimes survived on carcasses. As a result, other Tenctonese refuse to accept them. The movie begins with an escaped Eeno girl left to die as other Tenctonese refuse to help. Matt is shocked at George’s open bigotry; and George has to confront his discomfort with his slave past. As a subplot, George is asked help father a child. Among the Tenctonese, two males are needed to impregnate a female. George’s wife, Susan, deals with her own feelings of jealousy as human and Tenctonese value systems clash within her. This is a return to Alien Nation’s social themes and a stronger movie than the previous one.

THE UDARA LEGACY is the last of the TV movies. It focuses on a resistance movement of sleeper agents among the Tenctonese. It is the most action SF of all of the movies. There is more screen time given to Emily Francisco and a continuation of some to the relationship of Matt and Cathy. Like the third movie, it moves away from the social themes and as a result, is not as interesting. Alien Nation can get preachy, but it does that well and is most effective in that element. This is still not a bad TV movie, but not my favorite.

 

Well, it’s almost time for the holidays. I haven’t had time to do much TV watching, thought I did get to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 (twice) and THE LAST JEDI. And a few mysteries here and there. (ENDEAVOUR!!) I’m looking forward to BRIGHT- a Netflix series starring Will Smith with elves. I am a fan of anything with elves, pretty much. And the holidays are always the season for my Lord Of the Rings Marathon.

Happy Holidays!

SF/PARANORMAL Obscure: BITTEN

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BITTEN ran for three seasons 2014-2016 and is fairly new. It is based on the OTHERWORLD series by Kelley Armstrong. The series uses a variety of narrators, and this one is based on Elena, the female werewolf. (The witches plot line picks up in Season Two). I am a fan of the series and Armstrong’s writing in general. I was not able to watch the series in its initial run, but now had a chance to watch it on Netflix. Like many book to TV adaptions there are some differences, but on the whole, I felt like BITTEN captured the spirit of the series and didn’t stray to far from the basics of Elena’s character.

In brief: BITTEN follows the story of Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf known to have survived the change. There are born werewolves and turned werewolves and the survival rate is low. Elena lives a ‘regular’ life after leaving her werewolf family/clan in Stonehaven. A series of murders in the local town means the pack alpha, Jeremy, asks Elena to return as she is the best tracker. It also means she returns to Clay, Jeremy’s son and Elena’s former lover. Like most urban fantasy there is a heavy dose of relationship talk, sexual tension, as well as mystery. We get familiar with some of the other werewolves in the pack as well as rogue werewolves and the politics of the hidden world. And, of course, Elena’s two worlds begin to collide.

I enjoyed BITTEN. It started out a bit slow, but I think the pacing evened out as the series progressed. It does have a lot of the standard love/sex plot lines of most urban fantasy and no real surprises on that end (the hottest people always get to be the couple; 99% of the woman in town are young super model looking) but it’s not overboard. I think what makes it stand out from many of the urban fantasy TV shows-it did an effective job on the dark paranormal elements. The bad guys are truly disturbing. I say this because often in urban fantasy, it seems as it the bad guys are less frightening and more  just complicated and brooding. BITTEN, though, has truly violent and dangerous criminals; as well as the conflict within the ‘good guy’ wolves. In the end, all werewolves are killers to some degree and this show doesn’t shy away from their inherently violent world.

I think it’s worth a watch. I found it to be better than expected. I can get defensive when a book I like has a TV or movie adaptation falls flat- this one didn’t for me. It has some episodes that don’t quite grab you-but the characters are well defined and grow deeper. I liked the actor’s portrayal of Jeremy, the Alpha. In many ways he dominates the show. But hey, he is pack Alpha.

 

SF Obscure: First Wave

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 First Wave was a Canadian action/Adventure SF series that ran from 1998-2001. It ran for three seasons on the Space Channel in Canada. Yay Canada!

The plot centers around Cade Foster who’s framed for his wife’s murder and is on the run to uncover a vast alien conspiracy. From what I gathered-it took a bit to put the pieces together-the aliens kidnapped him and made him part of an experiment to test emotions or responses or something. Anyway, Foster doesn’t become their pawn and goes on the run. He is helped along by Eddie, a guy who ran a paranormal magazine and does all the computer nerd stuff. They are later joined in their quest to stop the aliens by an alien assassin turned ally named Joshua.

The aliens are called the Gua, who eventually intend to take over Earth. The Gua come from a star system via wormhole travel by putting their souls into little silver orbs and inhabiting human husk bodies. (This saves on the make-up budget, I am sure.) Also, salt is a highly addictive drug to the Gua. (If the Gua are inhabiting human bodies why would salt have adverse affects? Nevermind.) Apparently, Nostrodamus was a Gua and his predictions of three waves leading to the destruction of mankind are part of the alien plot. Most of the episodes involve Cade and Eddie following strange, paranormal stories and then investigating them for the true alien link. Every once and a while, law enforcement tracks Cade or aliens try to kill him.

The lead actor Sebastian Spence was later on Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t recognize him from that, but I realized that I did recognize him from the infamous X-files episode Home. Roger Cross, who plays the alien Joshua is apparently in Dark Matter (which I haven’t seen) but was also in the very fine Canadian SF show Continuum. And Traci Lords who was quite famous/infamous in the 1980’s for her porn career and the whole debate about it; but later became mainstream actress.

 First Wave is a decent show. It’s formulaic and loses steam as the episodes go on. But it’s not a bad show and it was an interesting trip down nostalgia lane.

Current TV: Discovery

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Star Trek: Discovery
Spoiler Alert!
I’m late with my next entry, but the truth was I wanted to watch the new Trek, read some books, and give a go at KILLJOYS, LUKE CAGE, and STRANGER THINGS which are now available on Japan Netflix. ORVILLE sadly, is not. Nor is WESTWORLD. I have more obscures to cover and it’s about time for another BLAKE’S 7 rewatch. Maybe I’ll blog that.

Spoiler Alert!!! Spoiler Alert!!

Anyway, I’m a Trek fan so I looked forward to the series. Impression: I liked it overall. I wanted to watch all first three episodes to get more of a feel for it. I liked the lead character Micheal Burnam. Sonequa Martin Green is a powerful actress and does a great job. Michelle Yeoh was good as Captain Georgiou -and now she’s gone which kind of sucks. Saru was a nice surprise as a new alien.

DISCOVERY is very different in that it starts with a character accused of mutiny and the war with the Klingons. This is definitely darker than previous shows though not if you follow the expanded canon-books & comics-or even the original Pike pilot. I don’t care that much about canon; as long as the show works for what it is. So far, I feel like it does. ‘Context is for Kings’ got me hooked. The mysterious ship-Lorca, Landry, Tilly. I can’t wait to see more.

It isn’t perfect. It’s darker-as in lighting which was a challenge. It seems to be a trend in SF to have everything really dark or blind you with screen flares. I hope the future has comfortable room lighting. It’s also MA rated-there is language & it probably means it won’t be family friendly. I don’t mind that if it fits the show but I do still want an all ages SF on TV again. As for storyline- I like Michael but I’m still not sure casting her as a former first officer was a good choice. She seems a bit too green for that. More like a super smart officer working up to it but not quite as much gravitas as I’d expect. It’s early stages yet. TNG took a whole season for some of those characters to even put and make sense.

So that’s my two bits. I doubt I’ll have much to say until the full season run.

SF Obscure: The Visitor

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The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.