A Completely Inaccurate and Unreliable History of TV and Film Time Travel!

I think I’ll start this post with that fabulous time travel film Back to the Future. If you have never seen it, (shame on you) the film concerns young Marty McFly who helps his friend Doc Brown with a time travel experiment. The time machine is a 1985 DeLorean sports car which morphs through time when it reaches the magical speed of 88 mph. The experiment goes horribly wrong when a gang of Libyan terrorists whom the Doc has double crossed in order to get some vital nuclear supplies for his car/time machine arrive and shoot the Doc apparently dead.

Marty escapes in the DeLorean, accidentally hits the time travel switch (the flux capacitor) and zooms back to 1955 when he speeds up to 88 mph.
There Marty has to enlist the help of Doc Brown’s younger self, get his parents’ romance back on course after accidentally knocking that off target, and get himself back to 1985 in time to prevent the Doc being murdered by terrorists.

In Back to the Future 2, Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s dad, failed to agree terms with the producers so was not in films 2 or 3. Instead a look-alike actor was used prompting Glover to sue the production company. His legal challenge failed but next time you watch 2 and 3, that’s why Marty’s dad isn’t in the film much!

There are some great little touches to the film too, some you may not even have noticed, for instance, when Marty leaves 1985 and goes back to the past, he departs from the Twin Pines Mall. There, in 1955 he hits a pine tree and later arrives back in 1985 at the Lone Pine Mall!

In the final film Doc Brown gets accidentally flipped back to 1885 and Marty has to time travel back there to save the Doc. How does he know the Doc is in 1885? Well, the Doc arranges for a courier service to deliver a message to Marty at the exact time and spot where he disappears and flips back to 1885. Of course as Marty rescued him and brought him back to the future, then he wouldn’t have been there to write the message for the courier, well wouldn’t he? Maybe he wrote the message before departing!

Funnily enough, that is a similar situation in one of my favourite of the rebooted Doctor Who episodes, Blink. The doctor, played by David Tennant, gets stuck in the past courtesy of the Weeping Angels, aliens who appear frozen when watched but otherwise move in the blink of an eye. However he manages to add some special video links to a future DVD so people in the present can pick up his messages and help him.

Blink is possibly the most beloved episode of the modern Doctor Who era, with an oddball mystery that is intriguing and a slightly off beat approach to the show’s usual format, focusing mainly on a new character named Sally Sparrow instead of David Tennant’s Doctor. Sally is played by the now famous Carey Mulligan, and her portrayal of a normal young woman who has to solve a crazy time mystery when her friend is transported to the past by a living angel statue won her plenty of fans among the Doctor Who faithful.

Really though, the best Doctor Who episodes were back in the 1980’s with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as assistant Sarah Jane Smith. A great episode was Pyramids of Mars, which combines sci- fi with the mystery of Egyptian tombs and artefacts. The Tardis materialises back at Unit headquarters in the UK. (UNIT by the way, is a military organisation the Doctor worked with in the 1980’s.) However, they are not at the current time period but have arrived earlier, in 1911. A great country house is there and it appears that a mysterious Egyptian has taken over the late Professor Scarman’s estate and there are many strange goings on. Later the Doctor finds that an ancient alien called Sutekh, imprisoned thousands of years ago by another alien, Horus is trying to escape captivity and wreak death and destruction on the universe. The Doctor, naturally, foils his plans.

Doctor Who is the world’s longest running sci-fi show having been first broadcast on the 22nd November 1963. Not many people watched the show that day as most people were desperate to find out about the Kennedy assassination and so it was repeated again the following week. William Hartnell, the original doctor, left the show in 1966 and the role passed to Patrick Troughton. The producers came up with the ingenious idea of having the doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey, regenerating into another body making it easy to reboot the series every time the lead actor left.

Star Trek, although not really a time travel programme actually had quite a few episodes which involved time travel. The fans’ firm favourite, an episode voted the best ever Star Trek episode, was City on the Edge of Forever. The crew of the Enterprise arrive at a distant planet searching for the source of some time displacement. The source is a time portal, left among the ruins of an ancient civilisation which although abandoned, still emits waves of time displacement. In the meantime, Doctor McCoy is suffering from paranoia brought on by an accidental overdose of the wonder drug cordrazine which any Star Trek fan will tell you can cure any known Galactic ailment. McCoy in his crazed state bumbles through the time portal, back to 1930’s America (handy for that old 1930’s set on the Paramount back lot) and changes history. Kirk and Spock are forced to also go back in time, stop McCoy from changing history and restore things to as they were. Joan Collins plays a charity worker at the core of events; does she have to die in order to restore things to as they were?

In the Star Trek movie world there was another great time travel film, Star Trek 4 in which earth is threatened by a space vehicle causing havoc with the world’s weather. It turns out that the aliens are sending signals in whale-speak so the crew travel back to the 1980’s in order to find a hump back whale which can respond to the aliens. Sounds a bit mad when I put it like that but actually Star Trek 4 was one of the best Trek films. Highlights included Mr Spock diving into a giant pool and mind melding with a whale and later asking a punk rocker to turn down his ghetto blaster.

I must of course mention the sixties show the Time Tunnel the Irwin Allen show about two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present,  the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

I’m at the point of running out of time travel TV shows but here is one great time travel movie, 12 Monkeys. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it then some time later I saw part of the film again and thought, hey, maybe this film isn’t so bad. The third time I saw it all the way through and did enjoy it although it can be a little hard to follow. 12 Monkeys was inspired by the French short film La Jetée made in 1962 and it goes something like this; Bruce Willis plays prisoner James Cole who lives in a post apocalyptic society in the year 2035 where people are forced to live underground after a deadly virus was released in 1996 which wiped out most of humanity. The virus was released by a group known only as the 12 Monkeys and Cole is selected to be sent back into the past to try and find the original virus so scientists can perfect a cure. Cole is plagued by a vision which constantly returns to him in which a man is shot dead on a railway station and as the film reaches its final moments, this tragic vision is finally explained.

I’ve tried to keep this post pretty much research free so no doubt numerous errors and omissions will be evident. What was your favourite time travel film or TV episode?


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A Man, his TV, and A DVD Box Set

picmonkey-imageI’ve spent a couple of afternoons this week slumped in front of the TV after an early morning shift. Starting at 6 in the morning does tend to knacker you out and although many times I start to think I can sort this or that out in the afternoon, the lure of the TV set is sometimes too much. Over Christmas I bid on a box of Doctor Who DVDs on the shopping site E-Bay. I didn’t bid that much, in fact I only remembered about the bid when an e-mail popped up asking me to pay. A large cardboard box duly arrived. I scanned through the box and found various box sets like Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, The Silver Nemesis and various others. I stashed the box away, not far from the DVD player waiting for a quiet moment to commence my viewing pleasure.

Over Christmas I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special and I have to say I was disappointed. Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays a good part and the effects and production values in the series are excellent but the stories seem a little bit lacking if you ask me. The Christmas special was about a young lad, accidentally given super powers by a chance meeting with the Doctor. When he grows up he uses his powers to become a super hero and we are left with a sort of spoof on the Superman/ Clark Kent/ Lois Lane story. I know it was the Christmas special and it was supposed to be a bit quirky but it just all seemed a bit daft to me.

Now I think of it, last year’s Christmas Doctor Who didn’t do it for me either; it was too full of sci-fi gobbledygook language. You know the sort of thing. Doctor, the Tardis is heading into the sun, what can we do? Well, if we reroute the dark matter converters into the phase drive and reverse the polarity. . You get the sort of thing I’m sure.

Anyway. Let’s fast forward to the other day and there’s me, arriving home all tired and grumpy after an early morning shift. I get a quick wash, sort out a brew, crank up the DVD player and insert Planet of the Daleks, a six part serial from 1973 into the DVD player. Then I settle down on the settee with a ham sandwich in one hand and the remote control firmly in the other and press play. I emerge a few hours later, rumpled, unshaven but happy. Planet of the Daleks was an enjoyable jaunt back to the TV of the 1970’s. Ok, the sets were a little on the cardboard side, the Spirodons, the resident aliens, when they weren’t invisible, were just blokes covered with big fur coats but throw in the Daleks, Doctor Who and his lovely assistant Jo Grant and I was as happy as Larry in TV heaven. The Doctor’s assistant was played by Katy Manning and it was nice to see Jo in her 1970’s gear and hairstyle once again. It was a shame when the very 70’s chic jacket she was wearing was thrown away because some very nasty jungle plants had sprayed it with some fungus.

pixabaytardis-1816598_1920Back in the 1970’s Jon Pertwee took over the role of Doctor Who from Patrick Troughton. William Hartnell had played the original Doctor as a grumpy and unpredictable old man, Troughton was the celestial comic and hobo and Jon Pertwee made the Doctor into a suave, smooth talking, velvet jacketed action hero with a penchant for Venusian karate. I wasn’t completely convinced at the time by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who but looking back I feel that his Doctor was one of the very best. All the others, even the modern ones, have kept on board elements of the first two doctors characters but Pertwee’s characterisation is just ever so slightly different. I can’t say I remember the first episode of Doctor Who being shown, I was only seven at the time but I Do remember William Hartnell and the strange thing is that I have grown up from a child to a middle aged man with this TV show always in the background. Jon pertwee was with me in the seventies, Tom Baker in the eighties and so on and when the Doctor returned after a long absence in 2005 with the part played by Christopher Eccleston, it was like the return of a long lost friend.

An interesting bonus on the DVD was that episode three, for which only a black and white version was available, was restored to full colour using a variety of new techniques. Back in the 1970’s of course, the future home video industry was not even a twinkle in the eye of the BBC bosses and they routinely taped over Doctor Who episodes for reasons of storage space, scarcity of new tapes and a belief that the tapes were of no commercial value. Not only Doctor Who but many other programmes were lost in this way until the BBC revised its policy in 1978 and began to keep a proper archive of recordings.

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

Ninety-seven episodes from Doctor Who’s first six years are missing. Some tele cine copies have been found in various TV stations around the world as the BBC copied tapes onto film for showing by other broadcasters.
I mention all this because included in the special features of the DVD was an item about Doctor Who videos. When video recording emerged in the 1980’s many people, like myself, started to record programmes like Doctor Who for home viewing. Fans interviewed for the feature spoke about attending fan conventions and hearing that various recordings of old shows were available. Many came from Australia where local broadcasters began showing old episodes of Doctor Who on Australian TV. Word got back to fans in the UK and considerable sums were exchanged for VHS copies of the episodes. One of the problems was that many of the copies were second, third, or even tenth generation copies but clearly there was a great demand from viewers for old episodes and eventually, the BBC began releasing episodes on video and later, DVD. I do love watching these extra segments on DVDs and the Doctor Who ones especially because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not the TV sc-fi nerd I thought I was, or least I am but there are plenty of other fellow sci-fi nerds about too.

Anyway, the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who experience was a very pleasant and enjoyable one and perfect for a cold wintry afternoon. Turn up the fire, get the kettle on and settle down with an old favourite TV show from 1973, the year I left school and started work at the tender age of sixteen. What could be nicer?

Anyway, it just goes to show that successful TV series sc-fi is more, much more than special effects and top class production. Perhaps the producers of Doctor Who in 2017 should take heed.


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A Sci-Fi DVD and an Incredible Moment of Self Discovery

quotescover-JPG-38Something incredible happened to me this week: I found out I wasn’t the oddball nerd I thought I was in my youth, or at least I was but I found out there were others like me, I wasn’t alone and the nerdy things I used to do were done by many others!

So what nerdy things did I do? Well, here’s one example. In the seventies, before the age of the video recorder I had a small audio cassette recorder and did all sorts of things with it as a teenager. I wrote a number of comedy plays which my poor brother was roped into and we performed these little comedy sketches to the microphone. I did enjoy making the sound effects. One that comes to mind was my brother being sick which involved him making a retching sound then pouring a bucket of water down the toilet! I also used to record some of my favourite radio and TV programmes. I bought a second hand radio cassette recorder which enabled me to record the top twenty every week (dud records edited out of course) but TV presented another challenge. I would record a show using the microphone placed near to the TV speaker. Trial and error found the correct spot; not too close, not too far away and my family were sworn to silence during the recordings, not that that would stop my brother, or even my dad making some small comment towards the end of the show!

Photo0033So, how did this realisation that I was not alone in my nerdiness – or even a nerd at all- come about?
This realisation came about because of a gift. My brother, I might add, who is not a man known for his giving of gifts, had been given some DVDs that were of no interest to him so he passed them to me. They were BBC DVDs of the long running TV series, Doctor Who. Now I have been a Doctor Who fan for many years. I faintly remember the original Doctor Who, the grumpy bad tempered chap played by William Hartnell. The very first episode of Doctor Who, ‘An Unearthly Child’, is one of the highlights of my DVD collection and interestingly it was broadcast on the 22nd November 1963, the day of the John F Kennedy assassination. Because of the tragedy the BBC re ran the episode the following week which is perhaps why the original has survived. The thing is, back in the 60s when digital recordings and home video were just a gleam in some inventor’s eye, the archives at the BBC were getting a little crammed so what did they decide to do about it? Two things, One; they would wipe the tapes and reuse them for other shows and two, they would simply get rid of them!

Crazy, but of course, the value of these old TV shows was not understood then and many hours of classic TV was lost in this way. Not just Doctor Who but Not Only But Also, the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore shows, Doomwatch, Hancock and many others, all lost.

Anyway, one of the DVDs my brother gave me was ‘the Invasion’ from 1968 with the second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton. The Invasion was made up of eight half hours shows and two of the eight had been lost or junked. Now many TV shows of the time, recorded on video were copied onto film by a telecine machine so the tape could be reused and the show broadcast again or sent to other parts of the world for broadcasting on foreign networks such as south Africa, Canada and so on. Many of these telecine recordings survive. Some have even known to have been rescued from tips or skips by BBC employees and even members of the public. Recently a lost episode of Doctor Who was found in Nigeria!

Anyway, here’s the punch line to this whole blog: When the BBC guys decided to reconstruct the missing episodes guess where they got the audio from? From audio recordings made by members of the public! Yes, Doctor Who fans who as youngsters recorded their favourite shows on audio cassettes, just as I did by placing  a microphone by the TV. So there we have it, conclusive proof that I wasn’t a nerd after all, or at least the nerdy activities of my youth were the same nerdy activities that other youngsters were involved in too!


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My Love Affair With Back To The Future

The world of the cinema is filled with great movies; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, John Ford’s The Searchers and Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca, to name but a few.
One movie, that I saw described on one web page as a ‘phenomenon of popular culture’ is a movie as good, certainly as entertaining and probably more accessible than any in the list above. Yes, I’m talking about Back To The Future.
The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the screenplay and Steven Speilberg produced and the stars of the picture were Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

5274270428_c4dff8b634_bIt was released in 1985 and was the biggest grossing movie of that year. It was also in the headlines again this year because 2015 was featured in Back To The Future 2 and the reality in 2015 was a little different to what the producers imagined! No hover boards, no self tying shoelaces!
Even so, Back To The Future is one of those movies that I loved straight from the opening titles and one that gets a regular airing on my DVD player.

Just in case you didn’t know, the movie is about a scientist called Doctor Emmet Brown who invents a time machine and installs it in his DeLorean. Michael J Fox plays Marty McFly who is helping him in his experiments but things go awry and it’s Marty who ends up in 1955 and he turns to the Doc’s younger self for help. The younger Doc Brown agrees to assist but warns Marty not to interact with anyone from 1955 in case the future is affected. Too late because Marty’s Mum – the 1955 version that is – already has a crush on him and Marty needs to get her focussed on his future Dad George, otherwise he’ll cease to exist!

Now what I really love about the movie is that all the little things that you see come together to make the plot work. The lady in the town square who is collecting for the clock tower restoration fund and the flyer she gives away that proves to be the key to getting 20,000 gigawatts of power into the time machine. (That’s the time machine that’s built in the Docs car, a DeLorean DNC-12.) The guy who works in the coffee shop who we know will become Mayor in 1985. The ‘enchantment under the sea’ ball where we know Marty’s Mum and Dad will fall for each other. I could go on, so there’s so much I love in this movie!

Huey Lewis and the News play the wonderful title track ‘The Power of Love’ and Huey himself makes an appearance in the movie as a judge at a talent competition who rejects Marty and his band for being too loud.

To finish here’s a couple of things you didn’t know about Back To The Future:

Michael J Fox was the first choice to play Marty McFly but the producers of his TV show Family Ties refused to release him from the show. The producers then engaged Eric Stoltz to play the role, however during filming, Zemeckis felt that Stoltz’ portrayal was a little dramatic. They were after someone more like, well more like Michael J Fox, so they went back to the TV show producers, came to an agreement and Michael was given the OK to star in the movie, but only after his day’s shooting was finished on the TV show. That meant a full day on the TV set for Michael, and then he started shooting on Back To The Future in the afternoons and evenings. Most of the daytime shots were done on the weekends as of course on a weekday he was still doing the TV show. Must have been one heck of a work schedule for Michael!

Ever wonder why Marty’s Dad doesn’t appear much in the sequels? Crispin Glover played the part of George McFly, Marty’s dad and both he and Lea Thompson who played Marty’s mum had to age from teenagers to middle age in the movie. Glover fell into a dispute with the producers because he asked for too much money to appear in part 2, so they dropped him. That’s the reason!

US President Ronald Reagan quoted the film in his 1986 State of the Union Address. Apparently when he first saw the joke about him being President, he asked the projectionist to stop the film, rewind and play the sequence again.

This year, 2015, the thirtieth anniversary of the film’s original release should see the first performance of a Back To the Future musical based on the original movie.


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