With the flood of unimaginative new television programs, especially on various cable channels, I’m often surprised that some of the most entertaining shows in history don’t have their very own following of people who know waaaaay too much about them. As always here at Balladeer’s Blog I like to shine the spotlight on everything that is unjustly overlooked. Feel free to start holding conventions devoted to, and launching flame wars about, these six criminally neglected television programs.
6. CAPTAIN Z-RO – (1951-1960) Over a full decade before Great Britain’s ultimate cult show, Doctor Who, hit the airwaves this American show featured the titular Captain traveling in time and space with various sidekicks, including Jet, the young man pictured with Captain Z-Ro in the photo to the left.
In addition to adventures that saw the Captain dealing with a robot run amok in San Francisco and with a potentially fatal meteor collision, his “experiments in time and space” (the show’s oft-repeated tag line) found him helping out some of the exact same historical figures that Great Britain’s Time Lord from Gallifrey would go on to encounter, like Marco Polo, William the Conqueror and the Aztecs. As an added bonus Captain Z-Ro solved the mystery of the Great Pyramid itself!
This series is good, campy fun and a fringe benefit would be the laughs viewers can get from outdated social attitudes and special effects. The show’s pricelessly campy opening alone is worth the effort to track episodes down.
5. MASTERMIND (also known as Q.E.D.) (1981) – A young, bearded Sam Waterston starred in this incredibly charming series set in 1912 England. Waterston portrayed the title genius, American Ivy League scholar Dr Quentin E Deveril, whose initials were, of course, a cutesy play on the Latin expression “quod erat demonstrandum” (“what was to be demonstrated”), the famous Q.E.D. from academic exercises.
Deveril’s adventures could be best described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Brisco County, Jr. Many of the creative team behind this show went on to do the lauded Sherlock Holmes series starring the great Jeremy Brett, and Deveril’s impatience with lesser minds rivaled that of the great detective.
Our Mastermind was often working on inventions that were ahead of their time, steam-punk style, and he used them to battle the forces of evil, especially his arch-enemy Dr Stefan Kilkiss, the fiend we are told was behind the sinking of the Titanic and other world-famous disasters. Some may object to my listing a program that only ran six episodes, but I believe in quality over quantity.
4. THE SANDBAGGERS (1978-1980) – What The Godfather was to gangster dramas, The Sandbaggers was to spy dramas. This Cold War era spy series was so steeped in alleged authenticity, mostly courtesy of former Intelligence man Ian Mackintosh, the show’s creator, that it has become known as “The Anti-007”.
Roy Marsden (pictured) portrayed Neil Burnside, the Don Corleone of British Intelligence’s Operations Directorate, the active arm of which was the Special Section, or Sandbaggers in the show’s jargon. Don’t look for non-stop gunfights, car chases, exotic locales and femmes fatale.
DO look for non-stop meetings, bureaucratic in-fighting, cheap hotel rooms and pointless deaths in the service- not of one’s country- but of hypocritical politicians and double-dealing superiors.
The program does a beautiful job of presenting people in the Intelligence field sympathetically but not heroically. If you liked Bob Woodward’s CIA expose Veil, you’ll definitely enjoy this show.
3. DOOMWATCH (1970-1972) – Think of this show as a more scientifically based forerunner of The X-Files. This British television series was about the title organization, whose jurisdiction was examining the environmental impact of evolving technology being used by the government, military and private sector.
Not that it was a dull public affairs show. Doomwatch’s investigations involved them in science fiction plots about plastic-eating bacteria run amok, science-spawned killer rats of extraordinary intelligence, bizarre experiments on newborn babies, chemicals that could wipe out all plant life on the planet, a biological warfare agent that renders an entire portion of England uninhabitable and many others.
The Doomwatch team frequently had to battle governmental figures trying to force the disbanding of the agency and often fought to expose massive coverups. John Paul (or “the man with Bea Arthur’s hair” as I call him) portrayed the team’s leader, Dr Spencer Quist, whose name was a salute to the 1950’s British sci-fi television series about Professor Quatermass. This program’s blend of environmental awareness and sci fi creepiness deserves a wider audience.
2. DEPARTMENT S (1968-1970) – Department S was a fictional department of Interpol and was a highly specialized unit called in to investigate exceptionally mind-boggling mysteries that left all other authorities baffled.
A passenger plane lands after being missing for six days but with the hundreds of passengers all swearing that mere hours passed for them? Call in Dept S.
An entire town disappears except for one woman who was asleep from tranquilizers? Call in Dept S.
In an abandoned factory an elaborately constructed room is discovered, elegantly furnished but with bars on the doors plus a dead woman and a gibbering, demented man inside? Call in Dept S.
The department’s three operatives were Annabelle Hurst, computer science genius extraordinaire, Stewart Sullivan, possessed of a razor-sharp mind and the fighting skills of a commando and Jason King, best-selling crime novelist who used his extraordinary imagination to help solve the cases Dept S investigated.
King, played by the moustachioed Peter Wyngarde, became the show’s most popular character and went on to his own program when Dept S went off the air. This show combined the best elements of The Avengers and Banacek and I feel Hurst, Sullivan and King should be as well-known as Steed and Peal.
1. RELIC HUNTER (1999-2002) – Before the Lara Croft movies, but obviously after the original Tomb Raider video game, came this fantastic syndicated series. Tia Carrere portrayed Professor Sydney Fox, college lecturer and relic hunter beyond compare. Relic Hunter dealt with the kind of stories that The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles SHOULD have done.
Each episode Sydney and her stumbling, bumbling assistant Nigel would track down a priceless artifact despite competition from rival relic hunters and black marketeers as well as deadly opposition from evil cults and sinister governments. Naturally these adventures unfolded against the backdrop of various exotic locations around the globe, sometimes with the fate of the entire world on the line.
Carrere is much more believable in this type of role than Angelina Joelie and handles complex mouthfuls of scholarly dialogue as smoothly as she handles the martial arts fight scenes.
This star-crossed classic had the misfortune to be on its first run when Baywatch and Xena: Warrior Princess were ruling the syndication world. Adding to its unjustly neglected status was the way legal battles surrounding the multi-national production prevented its DVD release for several years.
Happily, the complete set is available now so Professor Fox should finally become the international pop culture icon she deserves to be.
FOR MORE FORGOTTEN TELEVISION TREASURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/forgotten-television/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.