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Jack of All Trades is like a gourmet meal for goofballs.  If you took a dash of Wild Wild West, add a dash of Get Smart on top, and a garnish of F Troop, and a helping of Moonlighting… that’s what you’d get.”
–Bruce Campbell

Back when I started this website, one of the first articles I wrote was about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., headlined by cult hero Bruce Campbell.  The series is one of my favorites, and the show got an unfortunate early demise despite its wild adventure and comedy mix.  There’s a reason the article for it was called “Just under over-the-top”, as it described perfectly the fun tone and presentation.  But Bruce Campbell has done much more in his career, and there’s one other show he later did which fits on this site.  The show is called Jack of All Trades… and it abandons all pretense of being UNDER over-the-top.  Here, there’s no longer any subtlety involved… and in this case, that’s a good thing.

In the 2000 series Jack of All Trades, we meet Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell), an entertaining rogue if ever there was one.  A former spy (or “secret agent”, before the term was popularized), he worked for the early US Government during the Revolutionary War, and was now entrusted with preventing the formerly allied French from gaining a foothold in a slowly building America.  Despite their differences (and there are many), he teams with a British agent, the lovely Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin), and they establish themselves on the tiny East Indies island of Palau Palau, hoping to fight the enemy French from within their own colony.

In order to fool the French,  Jack pretends to be the manservant of the regal Rothschild, while Emilia takes on the bearing of a respected member of society’s elite (and supposedly on the side of the governing French).  She and Jack are really there to spy on their mutual French enemies and foil their plans for world domination.  And while there’s an obvious attraction to each other, neither is used to taking any orders from someone else, and both sexual tension and friction are played in equal measure amidst the rollicking adventure.

Croque

To help with fighting the French, Jack also takes on the alias of the legendary Daring Dragoon, a supposed local legend and masked hero.  Using both covers as Emilia’s attaché and the local populace’s fascination with the “reappearance” of the Dragoon, Jack and Emilia embark upon their true mission:  opposing the brother of Napoleon, Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie),  and Croque’s personal lackey, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).  Our heroic pair then proceeds to foil various plans and schemes of others, including many historical figures like Bonaparte himself.  In reality, Emilia is often Jack’s assistant instead of the public portrayal as his superior, and she’s also rather adept at mechanical invention, coming up with various devices to foil villainous plots along with the swashbuckling of Jack’s Daring Dragoon.

Brogard

Captain Brogard:  “So, we meet again, Mister Fancy Sword and his flowing cape.”

Jack (as the Dragoon):  “Give me some credit, will ya?  You know how hard it is to wear this thing and still look dashing?”


the Daring Dragoon

Between the Zorro-like pastiche of the Dragoon, the deus ex machina of some of Emilia’s machines, and the general lack of historical accuracy given in the production of the series, there’s no two ways about it:  Jack of All Trades was designed purely as an action romp, complete with cartoon character villains and plot holes big enough to drive war cannons through.  But that certainly didn’t stop the show from being entertaining, and that was the whole point.

From the opening, you knew this show was different.  The rousing theme song features a large cast, clever lyrics, explosions, dancing pirates (even one with a peg leg, on a table no less), and a talking parrot.  Subtlety be damned, this was in-your-face joyful fun.  It did such a fine job of setting the scene and demonstrating the style of the series, it was nominated for an Emmy!  Jack of All Trades was no place for sensitive drama or introspective scripting, and the theme alone let everyone see just what they were in for.

And the show delivered on that promise, at least most of the time.  There is some good role reversal going on between Jack and Emilia and the roles they have to play for the French leaders in order to keep their true identities hidden, and whenever Jack dons the garb of the Daring Dragoon Bruce Campbell simply shines.  Stories included numerous French attempts at conquest with Napoleon Bonaparte, a meeting with explorers Lewis and Clark, and faking the death of one of the principals to clear the name of the Dragoon.  And just when you thought the show couldn’t get any crazier, they broke out the Marquis De Sade, and a sex-game based triathlon ran in pseudo-fetish costume (or at least as “costumed” as television could get in the year 2000).

Governor Croque: “The Marquis de Sade is my second cousin, twice-removed.”
Jack Stiles: “I can see why you removed him.”

Trying to be true to the actual setting of 1800 was a lost cause, and even became a running gag at times.  Canada was constantly mistakenly(?) mentioned as being under French control instead of British, and historical characters visited Palau Palau even though their own “real” timelines never had them near the place (or even alive at the time).  Jack of All Trades was never designed for the remotest attention to detail or reality, it was simply designed as silly, fun entertainment.  And that’s just the way Bruce Campbell wanted it.

“I have a good time.  It’s one of the reasons I took Jack of All Trades.  It’s like a guarantee that I will have fun every day .”
–Bruce Campbell

Modern audiences might know Campbell from his current run as sidekick/mentor Sam Axe on the USA series Burn Notice.  He’s played the part since 2007, which is easily the longest running regular gig he’s had in television, although he’s known for many others.  He was an occasional guest (and fan favorite) as Autolycus on both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and sister series Xena:  Warrior Princess, both of which were shooting in New Zealand before and after his stint in Jack of All Trades.  I’ve mentioned his star turn in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. previously. He’s also had a movie career which includes the cult favorite Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies, cool zombie pictures that became influences on the current television hit The Walking Dead.

Campbell is a successful bestselling author, with tongue firmly in cheek, writing the semi-autobiographical tomes Make Love!  The Bruce Campbell Way and (making fun of his chiseled good looks) If Chins Could Kill:  Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.  He knows his niche, and while he’s possessed of great dramatic skills when they’re necessary (a stunning two-part Homicide:  Life on the Street comes to mind), his personality and desire seems to be more in line with poking fun, both at himself and others, with the characters he plays.

He’s also become associated with good friend Sam Raimi, a producer of film and television who has used Bruce in many of his vehicles (as listed above), but considers Campbell his “good luck charm” and will find small roles for him in various films.  Whether he’s a wrestling ring announcer or a French waiter, or his part ended up on the cutting room floor, Raimi wouldn’t make a film without him.

Fortunately, the aims of Jack of All Trades dovetailed with Raimi’s needs, and the series was shot utilizing some of the resources Raimi had already set up for Hercules and Xena in New Zealand.  The monetary exchange rate was excellent at the time, and a production which would cost millions of dollars in Hollywood only cost a bit over half of that down under.  An added plus was locations and scenery that simply wasn’t available in California, especially when you’re trying to replicate (even inaccurately) a South Sea island like Palau Palau.  The only real problem was time… but not in the way you might think.

Cleopatra 2525

When Jack of All Trades premiered, it was paired with a futuristic series called Cleopatra 2525, and sold as a set known as the “Back-to-Back Action Pack”.  It was also sold as only a 30-mintue program, with Cleopatra 2525 filling the other half of the hour.  Once you remove the necessary commercials (as they pay for the production), and the elaborate opening credits and any end credit sequence (required by various unions, no matter how they’ve been shrunk on modern-day shows), you’re left with an actual available running time of only about 20 minutes per episode, if you’re lucky.

That may be enough for a typical situation comedy, with a modest plot set primarily in a living room or office.  It becomes a terrible burden, however, when trying to make a period show set on a South Sea island, with multiple characters foiling elaborate schemes, plus character relationships and secret identities, not to mention trying to add action/adventure qualities with an over-the-top comedic tone.  Jack of All Trades really tried to be exactly that:  a show which presented all types of things to all people, in the name of entertainment.  But ultimately it couldn’t do everything it had hoped, primarily because of the time constraints.

But at least it had fun trying.  And perhaps “fun” is the one quality most important in any show, for viewers, cast, and crew.  And, as the opening credits sang, if you didn’t know that… you don’t know Jack.

All about the fun

BRUCE CAMPBELL (Jack Stiles) and his career are detailed in the article itself, but mention should be made of his recent trip overseas to visit US troops during the recent Iraqi conflict, and of his brother Don’s involvement.  Don has almost 30 years of experience in the military, and the brothers support each other in their endeavors.  Bruce has appeared at multiple sites in support of the troops, and Don has helped with some of the military-related roles Bruce has played over the years.  Entertainment takes many forms, and is especially valued by those whose hard work helps make us free to enjoy those moments.

AMANDA DOTCHIN (Emilia Rothschild) is a native of New Zealand, and her career has been primarily down under.  She’s best known there for the Lawless series of TV-movies, where won awards for her portrayal of a private investigator.  She left the acting business a few years ago and moved to Great Britain, where she now makes a living in the fashion industry.

STEWART DEVENIE (Governor Croque) is another New Zealand actor, and a favorite of director Peter Jackson.  He’s had an extensive theatre career as both an actor and director, and taught acting at the New Zealand Drama School.  He also founded the Playfair Ltd. theatre company, based in Auckland.

STEPHEN PAPPS (Captain Brogard) also appeared in both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and Xena:  Warrior Princess before joining Jack of All Trades.  Continuing his acting in Australia and New Zealand, he was seen in America most recently guesting on Legend of the Seeker (which filmed, like Hercules and Xena, in New Zealand).

Jack of All Trades has been released on DVD (although there aren’t any extras included), so you can enjoy all the fun and adventure for yourself.  Bruce Campbell has his own site, of course, full of information about his previous projects, his current stint on Burn Notice, and upcoming appearances at various conventions around the country.  He may be a self-confessed “B-movie” actor, but many would love to have his career, his fans, and his popularity.  On his site, just as in Jack of All Trades, you can see why.

No matter what the Hollywood power structure might believe as a business, for viewers television will always be primarily an entertainment medium.  One which is invited into our homes, as a part of our everyday lives, to bring us both dramatic and humorous moments to make our existence more interesting or, at the very least, provide an outlet for escape.  Depending upon the scene and the episode, Jack of All Trades did this well, with likable characters and humor, in a setting and style seldom found on most programs.

Much of the credit has to go to Bruce Campbell, for although he’s a self-proclaimed B-list actor, he’s been a welcome part of many productions, and his executive producer credits on both Jack of All Trades and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. meant his trademark humor was more than evident.  It only proves that, even though he plays a supporting role on the current Burn Notice, when the series was tapped for a special TV-movie, it focused upon his character and his backstory before the show continuity began.

Campbell may not be a star in the strictest Hollywood sense, but for those who appreciate his humor and dedication, he’s one of the brightest stars in both television and movies.  He doesn’t have to master Hollywood, especially when he can become popular on his own terms.  To those who love his work, he’s already a Jack of All Trades, and a master of entertainment.

Vital Stats

22 half-hour episodes — none unaired — available on DVD
Syndicated
First aired episode:  January 22, 2000
Final aired episode:  December 2, 2000
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Perhaps, but not likely.  Since the series was syndicated, it aired at various different times on different stations who bought the rights.  It also was known to flip-flop with Cleopatra 2525 at times, occasionally airing before it, and occasionally airing after.

(By the way, this didn’t fit in the article, but I found a picture that’s the very definition of “cult hero”:  Here’s Bruce Campbell, wearing Clan Campbell tartan dress, posing with Conor Macleod’s Highlander broadsword, in front of statues of Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace, at Edinbrugh Castle in Scotland.)

Thanks to the HeroChan website for this!

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“A fascinating subject, the Bermuda Triangle is like the ‘open sesame’.  It was there as a doorway into an infinite number of stories that had to do with the imagination more than anything.”
–Executive Producer Bruce Lansbury

There have been many ships and planes “lost” in what is known as “the Bermuda Triangle,” a mysterious area of the Caribbean just south of the US, with unexplained phenomena and unusual happenings.  At least, that’s the way it was back in the ’70’s, when imaginations ran wild with ideas of various people being transported to who knows where, or even who knows when.  While it was always a wonder about where they ended up, one show in the ’70’s decided to use those concepts to tell stories about all sorts of possible destinations.  On this show, it was all about The Fantastic Journey.

The (ultimate) cast of The Fantastic Journey

The Fantastic Journey aired 10 episodes on NBC beginning in 1976.  The initial pilot concerned a small group of scientists exploring the questions of the Bermuda Triangle, and becoming part of the unknown themselves when their sailing vessel is swallowed up by a mysterious green cloud (and you KNOW it’s mysterious because it’s GREEN, such easy television shorthand that it got used in a similar show a decade later).  The passengers awaken on an island, shipwrecked, unable to contact the mainland, and wondering how to survive.

Included are Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), a doctor just graduated out of school, who was acting as the medical advisor for the group.  He is joined by young Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the son of the scientist in charge of the expedition, and a history buff whose inquisitive nature sometimes causes problems.

These two meet up with Varian (Jared Martin), who first appears to them as an Arawak Indian, but he’s actually in disguise.  While the island they’re on apparently is somewhere in the 16th century, complete with renegade pirates, Varian is actually from the year 2260, and is just as stranded as Dr. Walters and Scott.  A pacifist by nature and belief, he uses a “Sonic Energizer” to focus his thoughts and do everything from heal injuries to open locked doors and create explosions.  (Think of Doctor Who‘s “sonic screwdriver”, except it looks like a fancy tuning fork.)

While there were others who survived the wreck, they didn’t survive the pilot, as some characters (including Scott’s father) were “lucky” enough to be sent home, as the initial episode was “adjusted” to eliminate them, leaving only Varian, Dr. Walters and Scott.

“The original idea was to go both directions in time.  In the pilot we had gone back in time.  NBC didn’t like that.  They said the past was boring and that we should only go forward in time.  But we couldn’t go out and shoot another pilot.  They decided to find some way to shoot some new footage about the future and insert it.  Also, the pilot was two hours long and they wanted to show it in an hour-and-a-half time slot as an extra-long episode to kick off the series.  So all these things were going on.”
–Jared Martin

Varian becomes the de facto leader of the small band, and he tells them the island they’re on houses many different times and places, all at once, and their way home lies somewhere in a place called “Evoland” many “time zones” away.  Their first journey after the pilot leads them away from the 16th century into a place called Atlantium, where they gain another traveler (or, really, two).

Liana and Varian

Liana (Katie Saylor) is a woman with an unusual heritage, said to be the daughter of an extraterrestrial mother who joined with her human father.  Deceptively strong due to her mixed parentage, she also possesses increased mental abilities, including telepathic skills.  She utilizes these with her pet, Sil-el, who appears to us as a cat (but quite possibly could be something more).  Liana doesn’t trust the new government of Atlantium (nor should she, honestly), so she decides to join Varian and company on her own search for home.

Varian, Dr.Willoway, and guest Joan Collins in the episode "Turnabout"

The next stop of the group, in the third episode, picks up another member for their journey.  Dr. Jonathan Willoway (Roddy McDowall) is a scientist from the 1960’s, but years ahead in pure scientific knowledge.  Trapped in a world of androids, he sees the group as a way to avoid his confinement and, although he has few skills to get along with other humans, he becomes a reluctant addition to the party.

At least initially, Willoway inhabits the “villain” role in stories, due to his selfishness and inability to relate to the others.  While at first this plays more like the comedic Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, McDowall’s talents (and some extensive script work) create a much more likable character in later episodes.  While there are still opposing views in place (Varian’s pacifist nature, Scott’s inquisitiveness, Liana’s non-human values), the group goes on together for the good of all.

“When I first brought it to the network, they kept trying to hammer it into a science fiction mold.  It was originally called The Incredible Island where all things could happen and did, you know, and it was a place where you could tell all kinds of stories, just as Serling did in Twilight Zone.  And basically we ended up doing that.  We didn’t do sci-fi at all. I leaned towards science fantasy, which permits you to a broader range of story and it pushes the imagination a little more than pure science fiction.  Science fiction tends to become the victim of rules and regulations and what has been done before and a categorization process.  That happens in science fiction.  Science fantasy allows you to express yourself in any way you want to as long as it opens the mind.”
–Bruce Lansbury

The world of Atlantium

It also makes telling stories much easier when you don’t have pesky rules around to get in the way.  Lansbury’s original idea was much more based in historical settings, although futuristic ones were possible.  As a history buff, Scott was going to be one of the sources for information, as was Dr. Walters for his medical knowledge.  But in a purely science fiction/fantasy premise, characters with advanced ideas were needed, especially when their explanations could be adjusted for story purposes; hence, the addition of Liana and Dr. Willoway to the group.

All those changes would suppose the series was about the characters themselves.  Perhaps that would have been more true if The Fantastic Journey had lasted longer than a mere 10 episodes.  But initially, the series was about the amazing places the group would discover as they made their way towards Evoland and, possibly, a way home.  It was not about significant character growth.

“The difference between doing something like this and doing a contemporary show is that everybody knows the whole typical format, the whole set; they know the stereotypes — they know everything — whereas, when you’re talking about something futurist, that’s fantasy.  You have to create that atmosphere for them.  You’ve got to make them believe that place.  More than anything else, they’ve got to get a feel of the place that you’re talking about.”
–Carl Franklin

There’s a good reason the show’s title is The Fantastic Journey.  It’s really about all the places they went, and the cultures they encountered.  While I admit freely that I may have been a bit disparaging of this series at one time (especially when I discussed a similar series, Otherworld), more recently I’ve discovered something that’s true about many shows:  different shows balance character and context in vastly different ways.  Two shows (like The Fantastic Journey and Otherworld in this example) might be very similar in premise, but they can be light years apart in execution.  And while I may like one over the other, for reasons of personal preference, they can both be successful at what they wanted to do.  I came to see The Fantastic Journey in a new, better light, simply because I realized it wasn’t about the characters, and my desires for their growth.  It really was about the journey… and showing the journey is exactly what the show set out to do.

A "women's liberation" story in scantily clad costumes. Of course. Welcome to the '70's.

The world encountered might be one filled with only children, or an examination of violence among a society of pacifists, or the old SF saw about a world run by only women and the idea of “male liberation.”  Each world was used to portray, through both the world itself and the reaction of our “outsider” characters, different points of view in a dramatic context.  And although the 1970’s view of “right” often prevailed, there’s enough shown from the more futuristic characters to see that there might be better ways to approach things than what existed in the past.

Because of this emphasis on message over character, individual advancement and growth of the regulars became pushed to the background, to the detriment of some very good actors.  But hopefully the actors knew that going in, simply because the stated premise of the show wasn’t about them, but what they encountered.  If it was just about the characters, Lansbury and company might have just kept the original cast from the pilot and gone on from there, but they didn’t.  They assembled points of view instead.

“Coming out of the pilot, we dropped two characters and acquired two more.  We acquired a girl from Atlantium and we acquired Dr. Willoway.  They were to balance a cast with Ike Eisenmann’s character and the black doctor, and it worked out in Varian who was a musician who healed with music.  And he was a very popular character incidentally.  But basically it was looking for a balance that would give us stories that went in every direction.  We always had a villain, so that you saw the darker side of human nature, and the better side of human nature hopefully always prevailed.  We overcame that dark side and looked to a future which was brighter.”
–Bruce Lansbury

There’s a balance on most shows between “character” and “situation,” and each show on television weighs that balance differently.  Some shows lean heavily toward the “character” side of the equation, and that’s where I believed Otherworld thrived, even when their premise and the “civilization of the week” ideas of The Fantastic Journey held much in common.  But I’ve since realized both shows succeed on their own merits, simply because The Fantastic Journey, even in its title, set out to be about the trip and not the people involved.  I criticized the show for having characters as ciphers, merely to set out different points of view for each society they met… and yet, since that was the actual goal, the creators and actors really did do their jobs admirably.  In my limited view, I just thought, initially, that it should be a different job.

But I was wrong.  Even the labors involved in the recasting (which took three episodes of the series to accomplish) showed that the producers were more interested in exploring the ideas inherent in the portrayed societies than in our characters’ growth.  Their character reactions were interesting, certainly, but served a wider canvas than just the effects upon their person.   The commentary on each society was designed to show the characters from our own time a new and sometimes better place.  That commentary also meant to show the “future” characters that those from our time might actually have gotten something right, something they may have lost in their attempts at enlightenment.  We current-day humans may not have all the answers, but we’ve got a few good ideas, and we’re willing to both teach and learn from the future.

And I’m willing to learn, too.  It’s all part of The Fantastic Journey.

In a search for answers to the Bermuda Triangle, Dr. Walters and Scott found an entire world full of ideas, choices, and discoveries to experience, and others joined them in their travels searching for their own solutions.  And while The Fantastic Journey was about those larger notions, the most important one was ultimately finding their way back, utilizing the differences and strengths of each other to help in their own travels.  And together, through all these wonderful experiences, they might actually find their way home, and learn something along the way.

CARL FRANKLIN (Dr. Fred Walters) was a guest star on many shows in the ’80’s, most notably as a recurring character chasing The A-Team.  He’s focused primarily on directing since the early ’90’s, most recently with an episode of Falling Skies this past season.  As a director and screenwriter, he (and the film) won multiple awards for Devil in a Blue Dress, a film noir set in the late ’40’s featuring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle.

IKE EISENMANN (Scott Jordan) is well-known to genre fans as Cadet Peter Preston in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and made his mark starring in the original Disney films Escape from Witch Mountain and the sequel Return to Witch Mountain.  In later years, he worked in post-production roles on many animated and live-action projects, both becoming a sound engineer and lending his voice to occasional characters.

JARED MARTIN (Varian) first came to prominence in The Fantastic Journey, but he’d appeared in many series previously, including The Rookies, Night Gallery, and Columbo.  He’s best known to the public at large for his recurring role as “Dusty” Farlow on Dallas, and was one of the leading fan suspects for the famous “Who shot J.R.?” plot (even though the producers hadn’t considered him at the time!)  He starred in the television version of War of the Worlds, and later created the Big Picture Alliance, helping introduce inner city youth in Philadelphia to filmmaking and production, a task he was heavily involved with for the next 15 years.

KATIE SAYLOR (Liana) had appeared on Police Story and Cannon prior to her role on The Fantastic Journey.  She unfortunately became severely ill during production of the series, forcing her to bow out of the final two episodes, and her recovery apparently took approximately a year.  She retired from the acting business as a result of her health issues, and reportedly passed away due to cancer in 1991.

RODDY McDOWALL (Dr. Jonathan Willoway) was featured on this site for his lead role on the televised version of Planet of the Apes, portraying a similar character to the ones he’d played in the original feature film series.  Popular and well-mannered, he’s remembered as one of Hollywood’s last real gentleman stars, and his collection of early film and television memorabilia now is kept by the Motion Picture Academy (the people who give out the Oscars).  Willoway was actually written specifically to interest McDowall in the part, as the producers wanted him to join their series… and after reading the script, he did!

The Fantastic Journey is unavailable as a commercial DVD, so the bootleg route is the only reasonable way to see them all.  The opening is available on YouTube, as are a few episodes (in chunks, of course).  The show itself is well-remembered by many, even though it lasted a relatively short time, and there’s a great fan site here with information on the series stars, episodes, and a few articles published during the original run.

Ready for the next journey

“For the near future, at any rate, I think the future of science fiction will be in the movies, not on TV., which is sad.  The people who most need to be educated are the ones who don’t go to films, who sit at home, turn on the TV set, and absorb anything that comes their way.”
–Jared Martin, on the demise of The Fantastic Journey

Oddly enough, the above quote comes from Martin in early April of 1977, not quite two months before the original Star Wars opened in movie theaters and Hollywood (and science fiction) were changed forever.  Perhaps if The Fantastic Journey had held on a bit longer, it might have been part of the fans’ journey as well, towards a new and different world for both the series and for science fiction and fantasy in general.  An unexpected enlightenment waited just a bit farther down the road.

And maybe that is the ultimate purpose of any journey, whether it’s one of a televised nature or a personal one.  Those that feel the goal is the nebulous idea of “enlightenment” sometimes forget that it’s not really a goal per se.  Enlightenment is never really fully achieved, but it’s the path taken to get there that brings us home, full of fresh ideas and wonder.  And that’s what all the characters in The Fantastic Journey were really after, once you look at it that way.  All any of them wanted was their own version of enlightenment, their own way home.

Vital Stats

10 episodes — none unaired (although a rumored 11th script, Romulus, is apparently out there)
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 3, 1977 (90-minute pilot)
Final aired episode:  June 17, 1977 (airing two months after the regular run of the series ended in April)
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, the series normal timeslot was Thursdays at 8/7, up against hits The Waltons and Welcome Back, Kotter.  The journey to ratings success was troublesome to begin with.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

For those of you who know me, or who have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that two of my favorite shows are The Middleman (which I wrote about here) and Doctor Who (which my good friend Jeremy tackled on this site previously).  So it was with great surprise recently that I discovered a “professional” version of “fan fiction” (another article for anyone interested) written by the creator of The Middleman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach. 

He wrote the following as a gift to fans of The Middleman this Christmas, and he has graciously allowed me to repost it here.  Read, enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday season… and if you’re interested in some of his other projects, then by all means, please check out his own website, The Grillo-Marxuach Design Bureau, full of his work on shows like Lost (and all the way back to Dark Skies), and comics like The Middleman and The Flash.  Happy holidays, and may they be filled with wonder and fun….

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:00 a.m.

“Fudgety-Bow-Wow, Dubbie!”

The Big Green Cheese’s language was extra-salty today, but Wendy Watson couldn’t muster the gumption for a witty rejoinder for two distinct reasons.  Reason number one?  Two adamantine thoughts currently raging like an electrical storm in her brain:

Wendy Watson, Middleman-in-training

Thought number one: an intense calculation of the tangled path of clues and conspiracies that had led her to this present, and precarious situation.  The winding and dangerous intrigue of the past few days included but was not limited to: a. the kidnapping of a genetically-enhanced, superintelligent dolphin from a children’s waterpark in Dubuque, b. the sudden manifestation in a Bhutanese monastery of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness – an alien entity comprised pure hatred expressed as a small pool of malodorous brown bioluminescent ooze and c. the HEYDAR’s discovery of a not inconsiderably large rift in the fabric of space and time emanating from this location.

Thought number two: a certain yearning for her aunt Margarita’s Ropa Vieja, a thick and vinegary Caribbean stew of meat, peppers, and onions whose preparation inevitably filled the house with a. a delicious and savory aroma and b. the irresistible strains of Miguel Bosé’s signature 1980‘s hit single Amante Bandido.

Thought number two always intruded into Wendy’s mind during moments of extreme danger… and may have been the key contributing factor to her trademark serenity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Reason number two for Wendy Watson’s lack of a witty rejoinder?  She was – indeed – experiencing a moment of extreme danger when she heard the voice of her employer: hanging upside-down, her legs magnetically shackled to a shining steel girder over the Coliseum-like lair of yet another egomaniacal-male-chauvinist-pig-supervillain who was probably neither breastfed as a baby nor picked for the football team as a child…

…and beneath her, an army of somewhat comical salt-and-pepper-shaker-shaped robots… all sporting plunger-shaped manipulator arms and lethal gunsticks… all crying out the same word with shrill and excruciating homogeneity:

“EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! EXTERMINATE!”

The Middleman and Wendy
in
THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY, JIGGERY-POKERY

The Middleman

While The Middleman’s wide stance and arms-akimbo gave him the necessary heroic demeanor as he leaped from a sparkling Tesla coil onto the ramp leading to the current supervillain’s coliseum-like lair, the truth of the matter is that he had very little idea as to what expected him on the other side…

…aside from an appropriately grandiose architectural enclosure, a doomsday device of unfathomably Byzantine construction, a robotic army, and a sidekick in peril.

“What is that thing beneath you, Dubbie?”

In spite of the distracting thoughts and blood rushing to her head, Wendy somehow gathered the strength to turn to her boss and give him the lowdown:

“While you were fighting the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus -”

“You mean defeating the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus,” corrected The Middleman with a tooth-gleaming smile to complement his usual meticulous exactitude.

“- I discovered that Kanimang Kang has gathered the necessary elements to open the Cinderellica!”

“Sweet singing mice!  Not the Cinderellica!” Declared the Middleman – but no sooner had he made his distress clear that a Jumbotron (because, after all, what coliseum could ever be complete without one) flared into light and motion on the far wall of the coliseum…

“My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity!”

“Shoulder of Orion!” Snarled The Middleman, recognizing immediately the face of his arch-nemesis, “it’s Kanimang Kang!”

…and indeed, across the screen blazed the dark-lensed-Shuron-Sidewinder-bespectacled visage of Kanimang Kang: head of the Federated Agents of Tyranny, Betrayal and Oppression’s Yoke, dressed in his signature beige Mao suit and sporting his trademark Ronald Reagan coif.

Manservant Neville, member of F.A.T.B.O.Y.

Behind Kanimang Kang snivelled the gorilla-suit-and-necktie-clad, twin Tommy gun-carrying form of Manservant Neville: the often-believed-to-be-dead-at-birth older evil twin brother and namesake of a business leader once renowned as the greatest new technology visionary in the world!

“Ha-ha!” chortled Manservant Neville, “Middleham’s about to hear a monlogue!”

“Indeed, Manservant Neville,” declaimed Kanimang Kang, “how else will our enemy know what he gave his life to fail to stop.”

Instead of marshaling the final ember of a consciousness about to black out to execute the most epic eye roll in the history of contempt, Wendy simply blurted out the following –

“They are using the hyper-intelligent dolphin to perform the ongoing calculations that keep open the rift in time and space, with which they punched out a window to the planet Necros, through which they teleported the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes, whose combined weapons will blast open the Cinderellica, inside which is trapped the M.P.T.I.T.U. – “

“The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe,” confirmed The Middleman as Wendy drew a tortured breath to finish briefing her employer:

“ – which they will corrupt through exposure to the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness into a weapon of unspeakable power!”

Her last thought before passing out? “Amazing, what a girl can learn while the boss is out defeating a Tesla-powered mechanical octopus.”

“Oh, phooey,” came The Middleman’s response.

“Damn you, sidecar!” Shouted Kanimang Kang – clenched fists shaking with the impotent frustration – his once-magnificent rant now sanctioned with extreme prejudice: double-tapped execution-style in the back of its metaphorical spine by the lethal weapon of brevity.

Having now duly cursed his opponents – and been vexingly deprived of a gordian explication of his nefarious scheme – Kanimang Kang exchanged befuddled looks with his sidekick.  After a vaguely dispirited shrug, Kanimang Kang casually reached over to his control panel and flicked the tin toggle that engaged the nuclear-fusion reactor powering the brobdingnagian clockwork holding shut the gargantuan bellows maintaining the seal on the dauntingly large hatch of the sarcophagus containing the Cinderellica.

“KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG!” cried out The Middleman.

And while the unveiling of the Cinderellica – entombed in all of its transparent, slipper-shaped, crystalline vastness from the Beginning of Time Immemorial beneath what was now Kanimang Kag’s Coliseum-like lair – may sound like so bombastic and operatic-in-magnitude a process as to take hours to complete, in truth, it took a mere fraction of a second.

The shattering of the foot-formed glass crypt by the fire of the thousand gunsticks mounted on the salt-and-pepper shaker cyborgs took no longer.

Neither did the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the dark thoughts and tortured soul of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness.

By the time The Middleman reached for his utility belt, the hybrid life force resulting from the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness had long-ago decided it was better off without the stewardship of Kanimang Kang, Manservant Neville, the legions of F.A.T.B.O.Y. and the salt-and-pepper shakers, and all had been smitten in a series of lightning strikes punctuated by a. eruptions of bimechanical offal (in the case of the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes) and b. far messier eruptions of purely biological offal (in the case of the humans).

By the time The Middleman fired his grappling gun and was halfway through his arc over the ball of light and dread where the salt-and-pepper-shaker dudes had once stood – hoping to make the final, desperate act of his life the simultaneous rescue of his sidekick and dropping of a Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon (so named for it’s Y-shaped form-factor) into the opening maw of the Cinderellica, the fate of the world had already been signed, sealed and delivered.

The Middleman’s final desperate act of self-sacrifice was to have been in vain.

Had he not heard – over the clamor of exploding cyborgs and henchmen – an aural phenomenon he had many years ago vowed to never forget… an echoing, pulsating mechanical howl best described as the animal husbanding of the arooga-horn from a Ford Model-A and a 1930’s Parisian hotel elevator inside one of the vacuum tubes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963.

AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP!

By the time The Middleman’s swashbuckling trajectory had taken him to the spot where Wendy Watson hanged unconscious – but before he was able to flip the switch arming the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon – both he and his sidekick were in a different place altogether.

Inside the cobalt blue police call box which had inexplicably materialized over the late Kanimang Kang’s Coliseum-like lair and briefly hovered in space before vanishing with a final echoing AROOGA-THUMP!

"bigger on the inside"

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
MERE MOMENTS LATER

The journey back to Middleman HQ took a mere flick of a fly’s wing, but that was enough time for Wendy – even in her groggy state – to exhaust every possible variation, innuendo and entendre – both double and single – about the “box being bigger on the inside.”

As The Middleman punched his way out through the front door of what was clearly a ship designed to travel through time and relative dimensions in space, all that was left were his ongoing protestations:

“Who are you?  What have you done with him?”

The jolly young chap who followed him out seemed deeply unconcerned with The Middleman’s flaring anger:

“AAAH! Middleman headquarters – I can practically smell the history!”

Wendy Watson – holding up the rear as usual – could not help but check out her savior’s tight, hipstery jeans, the ever-so-rumpled tweed blazer, the peeking collar of his Paul Smith shirt, and – of course – the finely-sculpted mane of hair partially hidden by the viking helmet.

This man looked no different from the legions of cute artist wannabees who served her lattes at the Java Applet coffee house a block away from her surprisingly spacious yet unrealistically affordable loft on a daily basis… yet he had not only just saved her – and the boss’ life… he also seemed strangely familiar.

“But I am him, Clarence – you just have to look a bit closer… or we could just skip the pleasantries and go about saving the planet as you know it.”

The Middleman had already made his decision on that score – he spun on his boots, simultaneously unholstering the B.T.R.S. scanner, which responded to his touch with its signature “BORP!”

sonic screwdrivers are cool

At the same time, their jolly savior reached into his jacket and pulled out a device similar in size to a compact bicycle pump…

… with a little blinky thing on the end, and a room-filling trill.

The two heroes stood off for a moment, each of their signature devices making its own unique and annoying noise – borp/trill-borp/trill-borp/trill – until a numinous cloud appeared in the space between them: a magical apparition of smoke and technology manifesting a series of images…

…a white-haired grand-dad, a coot in a fur coat and a Moe Howard hairdo, a dashing lothario with an aquiline nose and a sweeping crest of hair, a floppy-fedora-wearing hippy wrapped in an impossibly long scarf, a nordic youth with a celery buttoniere, a wide-faced and imperious rake in an impossibly tasteless coat, a heavy-browed gentleman under a Panama hat, a dewy-eyed pre-Raphaelite, a leather-clad geordie straight out of the Red Riding Trilogy, and – finally – a dapper, bespectacled mod.

“Caves of Androzani!” hissed The Middleman as he stood down, “you can turn off the slide show…I get it.”

“I don’t – ” chimed in Wendy Watson – intending her voice to snap, but the courage snatched from her conviction by the undeniable cuteness of the hipster sexgod standing before her…

“- and I would appreciate it if someone – anyone – could tell me what just happened.”

“What just happened,” tattoed the hipster sexgod as he turned to face her, a cute little bowtie framing his Easter Island face and massive yet strangely sensual nose, “is that your Dirk Squarejaw employer is put off that I conveniently stopped him from giving up his life in absolute vain!”

“That is NOT true,” countered The Middleman, “I was just about to -”

“To what?  Try to stop the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe with a mere firecracker?”

Hipster sexgod draped himself on the central console, crossing his legs as he tucked his signature device into his jacket before adding that:

“You G.I. Joes are all the same, thinking that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the careful application of high explosives.”

“I don’t care if you are the man I knew – you are NOT the man I knew,” retorted The Middleman without any seeming awareness of – or desire to reconcile – the contradiction in his words, as his mind was busy background processing a way to salvage this debacle – “now God knows what Kanimang Kang has brought about!”

“Hey, boss, how about you give skinny-jeans a break… the man did save our lives.”

Before The Middleman could explain himself, a familiar voice filled the room…

“You cheeba-suckers really pinched a loaf in the hay this time!”

Wendy Watson buried her face in her hands.  Though by now she was completely used to Ida’s ongoing accusations of drug addiction, incompetence – and her endless wellspring of euphemisms for defecating on the bed – this was not anyone’s idea of a good first impression.

“Oh great,” croaked Ida with weary familiarity as she bustled by the blue box and the mysterious guest, giving neither a second glance, “it’s you.”

“Hello, Ida,” intoned hipster sexgod with an unsettlingly casual tone, “you remain as sweet as apple cider.”

"THAT was a doctor"

“Oh, shut the front door,” exasperated the cranky android, “you looked a lot better with the capes and the kung-fu and the white hair and the puffy shirts and the crushed velvet smoking jackets and the criminally age-inappropriate companion… now THAT was a doctor.”

Wendy turned to hipster sexgod, “wait a minute – wait – you’re a doctor?”

“I. Am. The Doctor.” Declared hipster sexgod, fixing his bowtie.

“Whats with the viking helmet?” rasped Ida, plugging herself to the HEYDAR.

“I wear a viking helmet now,” shrugged The Doctor.

“Viking helmets are cool,” colluded Wendy Watson.

“Well hang on to your helmet, motherhumpers, ‘cause this world is about to end, no thanks to any of you donnie-pumpers.”

With a flare of a mechanical nostril, Ida activated the many screens of the HEYDAR…

… and all of them depicted horrible scenes of destruction across the planet!

Big Ben in ruins.

The Washington Monument a pile of rubble.

The White House a cinder.

Hoover dam underwater.

The Eiffel Tower melted.

Detroit strangely unchanged.

“Sweet mother of Roland Emmerich!”

"Time Tsunami" Coming in 2018

The Middleman rubbed his temples as The Doctor restrained himself from quipping that he served as an uncredited technical advisor on the august film-maker’s disaster epic Time Tsunami (coming to theaters July of 2018) out of respect for his American friend’s intense distress over the devastation roiling before them.

What else could he do? It was exactly this profound sense of empathy – this uniquely human quality of caring for the lives of others – that kept bringing The Doctor back to Earth to recruit his traveling companions.

“Well, it’s a good thing we have a time machine at our disposal, now, tell me, Ida… just how is Guy Goddard?”

“Don’t get me started,” eye-rolled Ida, “how’s Captain Jack?”

“Don’t get me started,” The Doctor threw up his hands, “I mean, really.”

“This is no time to mince around reminiscing about past exploits,” barked The Middleman, “we have a bad man running around with the M.P.T.I.T.U., how do we stop him?”

“You Americans – so concerned with structure and the proper order of things… I could have sworn you just took a dramatic pause for a commercial break!”

“My boss does have a point,” peace-brokered Wendy Watson, “there is a bad man and an army of salt-shaker-thingys -”

“Daleks,” corrected The Doctor, “the very reason I chose to pop in when I did… right after my sixth regeneration materialized in a puff of improbability inside my TARDIS to warn me that a rift had opened above the battle of Necros – and rather insolently informed me that it was up to me to find out the disposition of the Daleks who were teleported from the fray… and almost gave me a black eye. I was a violent sort back then.”

“Right.  Daleks,” concluded Wendy Watson, trying to disguise that she was completely unmoored by all of this new information.

“We do not have to worry about the Daleks, love… or your arch-nemesis Kanimang Kang,” purred The Doctor as he leaned closer to Wendy Watson’s confusion-and-annoyance-streaked face… a state of mind compounded by her heart’s fluttering in a way she had not felt since young Tyler Ford had been packed off to Greenland a few months ago.

“See,” continued The Doctor, his tone soothing, “they were destroyed when the Vitrioplasmoid Conscience merged with the M.P.T.I.T.U.”

“I never met a deus ex machina I didn’t like,” nodded The Middleman, stroking the five o’clock shadow on his chiseled chin.

“Right there with you, dear boy,” chirped The Doctor.

Ida, in all her glory

“Hey!”

Ida.  About to spoil the party.  She excelled at that.

“Don’t know if this has occurred to you hoolies… but just because the bad guys are all croaked doesn’t mean we still don’t have to figure out a way to destroy a little something that just happens to go by the name ‘The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe’!”

“I’m working on it,” whispered The Doctor as The Middleman stepped up, shaking his finger – one of his trademark contingency plans clockworking its way through the sharp corners of his methodical brain:

“The M.P.T.I.T.U. is not de facto an evil being, it is merely powerful.  Kanimang Kang knew this, which is why he used the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness to corrupt it into a force of unspeakable power.”

“So,” jumped in Wendy Watson, if we can get in there before the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness compels the M.P.T.I.T.U. to destroy the world… but after the Daleks are destroyed…”

“We will only have the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe to contend with – as opposed to the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe AND your arch-nemesis AND all of his minions AND an army of genocidal hybrid life-forms!”

The Doctor was almost giddy – but it was not long-lived…

“But how… howhowhowhow… do we turn the M.P.T.I.T.U. back to the side of good after it has already been exposed to a life form of pure, all-corrupting evil?”

Not quite a Buddha Fish, I don't think...

“Will a Buddha Fish do the trick?” Quizzed The Middleman.

“A Buddha Fish?” The Doctor repeated, his tone mocking as he made a John Cleese-like silly walk straight into The Middleman’s personal space before making a wildly exaggerated show of his turning-away-aggravation:

“A Buddha Fish?  You might as well ask for the thirteenth regeneration of Rassilon!”

The Doctor’s tone then turned to a pensive whisper as he spun his back on Wendy Watson, Ida, and The Middleman – cradling his ample chin in the palm of his hand…

“It might take me some time to figure this one out… perhaps the three of you should come with me aboard the TARDIS and flee the coming devastation… have some adventures…”

…his features then darkened with a brooding romanticism that made Wendy Watson want to jump his bones immediately.

“…and have all of your lives devastated by sheer measure of your contact with me.”

“I have a Buddha Fish in the Middlevault,” offered The Middleman, his broad shoulders pulling back as he broke into a determined stride across the main hub of Middleman H.Q.

“Why don’t I just go ahead and get that,” he added, “and then we can go right on over and save the world.”

“You do NOT have a Buddha Fish!” Exclaimed The Doctor.

“Wah-wah-wah!” Interjected Ida, “you watch that attitude when the Jolly Green Giant’s on a roll!”

“Actually, I do have one, and it’s a funny story how…see, your first… uh… regeneration? Incarnation? Anyway, some other version of you borrows it from me six years from now and then loses it in a simultaneous competitive chess match against sixty-seven Grand Masters of the Clotharian Rebel Fleet… of course, that only turns out to be a distraction tactic to keep their best military strategists busy while Wendy and I stop Extreme Aldwyn from invading the planet…”

High... Maximum... EXTREME Aldwyn

“Extreme Aldwyn? You mean ‘High’ – I mean ‘Maximum Aldwyn’.”

“No, Dubbie, I mean Extreme Aldwyn, he got… uh gets… will have a promotion…”

“I hate that guy!”

“…anyway, six years ago, The Doctor came back and we went on a grand adventure to get back the Buddha Fish from the Clotharian Grand Masters – then in exile and working as towel boys at the pleasure hive of Eroticon 6 – the end result of which was that he, uh – the then-Doctor -”

“The first Doctor,” came the Eleventh Doctor’s definition.

“Right – the first Doctor entrusted the Buddha Fish to me for safekeeping in the Middlevault… only back then, he was a kindly old grandfather-type, as opposed to the beatnik you see before you.”

“Weirdly, that made absolute sense,” said Wendy Watson, her head not spinning at all.

“You know, Dubbie,” The Middleman said in his most “the more you know” tone, “everything that’s happening to us right now is exactly the reason why The Middlelore explicitly forbids this kind of timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety, jiggery-pokery.”

“Timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety jiggery-pokery?”

The Doctor rolled the words in his mouth as if taking them for a test drive, “I’m not sure I like the sound of that…”

“Anyone want to come up with a plan to stop the deaths of billions of people?” Shrieked Ida from her desk.

“Right. I take my TARDIS,” schemed The Doctor, successfully concealing his growing and unnatural dread of the unpleasant, superannuated female android, “land at the exact point in space and time and then find a way to safely deliver the Buddha Fish into the maelstrom of death and destruction – thus ending the M.P.T.I.T.U.’s reign of terror.  Neither one of you can do it, of course, as I’d rather you not come face to face with yourselves in an alternate timeline… but otherwise, this is a cracking good plan!”

“As much as I live to volunteer for the ultimate sacrifice,” began The Middleman –

“ – and he does,” finished Wendy.

“The risk of a time paradox resulting from my meeting myself – even in the recent past – is just too frag-warbling high.”

“Really?” Head-tilted Wendy Watson, “I always wanted to walk up to myself and say ‘I’m YOU… from THE FUTURE!’”

“Sorry dubbie – but if you – or I – were to cause a fabric of space-time-unraveling paradox after all we’ve been through… well, that would just be a flipsy-flopsy.”

“Oh stop beating around the burning bush, ya pansies, I have a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis and a full complement of defensive shielding: let me at ‘em and I’ll save the freakin’ planet, seeing as none of you have the cojones to man-up and take the plunge!”

The Middleman, Wendy Watson and their honored guest all exchanged glances, and then:

“Let’s wax this duck!”

“Allons-y!”

“Oh, brother.”

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
THREE AND A HALF SECONDS LATER

As The Doctor cut a high-spirited jog to the Middlevault, and Ida slumped at her desk – folding the final origami of this iteration of her existence, knowing that O2STK would immediately send down an identical model – a new Ida with an even more visually assaulting dress and all of her memories – and wondering how she got stuck with this rat-bastard bunch of panty waists for heroes – Wendy Watson quietly buttoned her boss at the mouth of the corridor leading out of the Main Hub.

“What’s a Buddha Fish?”

“Well, Dubbie… The Buddha Fish is a unique organism bred by the High Transuniversal Lamas of Samadhilon 5. It acts like an ichtyo-psychic lens, focusing all the good will of the universe into a single unified grain of consciousness. Any sentient being that comes into contact with the Buddha Fish immediately gives up all ambitions and material concerns in exchange for a life of quiet contemplation without any expectation of outcome.”

“OK. And – uh – who’s the guy in the viking helmet?”

“The Doctor? Oh… he’s the last of Time Lords of Gallifrey.”

“Strangely,” shrugged Wendy Watson, “that makes complete and total sense.”

The Doctor popped his head back into the Main Hub:

“How would you feel about ‘wibbly-wobbly’ instead of ‘higglety-pigglety’?”

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:03 A.M.

The details of how Ida was delivered into the glowing jaws of death and architectural carnage by the timely manifestation of the TARDIS are – frankly – tedious and academic.

Suffice it to say that The Doctor arrived just in the nick of – well, he got there the at the exact and appropriate moment.

He then pushed a crotchety old woman out the door to his time ship (because even he knew that – deep down inside – she was not a crotchety old woman, but a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis wrapped up in the burlap-like skin, hideous house dress, and loud costume jewelry of a crotchety old woman… which may have been why he had by then grown so afraid of her… or maybe it was merely that she was just. so. mean.).

All the way down, the crotchety old woman shouted the following words…

“COME GET SOME YA PRIMORDIAL SCUM!”

At the moment the crotchety old woman’s outer layer of skin, combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis, and, lastly, her awful frock, melted in the sweltering heat of the supermassive outer layer of the M.P.T.I.T.U./Vitrioplasmoid Conscience hybrid – revealing the most-exalted form of the Buddha Fish – the erstwhile Kanimang Kang’s lair, as well as all of his plans for world domination, vanished swiftly in a puff of inner peace and kindness toward all beings.

The TARDIS then vanished… its distinctive AROOGA-THUMP noise signifying to all that the plan had come together, the day belonged to the forces of good, and all was right with the world.

THE ILLEGAL SUBLET WENDY WATSON SHARES WITH HER EQUALLY PHOTOGENIC ROOMMATE
10:30 P.M.

The genius brains behind O2STK may have manufactured the latest-generation Middlemobile with an obsidian coat of the Mikheyev/Smirnov/Wolfenstein automotive finish (a type of paint designed to capture runaway solar neutrinos and use their free and clean energy to run the electric engine underneath the hood without polluting the environment)… but they also gave The Middleman’s conveyance the adequately muscular body of a 1967 Pontiac GTO and a speed-responsive sound-and-vibration mechanism that gave the car the appropriate road feel and vulpine thunder of a true American Muscle Car.

The Middlemobile, then, idled noisily outside of Wendy Watson’s loft.

Inside, The Middleman and Wendy Watson congratulated one another on a job well done… though neither of them truly – or entirely – understood how exactly the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon had succeeded in destroying the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe… especially after its melding with the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness had rendered it into an absolutely destructive force of ultimate evil.

But The Middleman never met a Deus Ex Machina he didn’t like… and Wendy Watson was starting to see the wisdom behind his philosophy.

Kanimang Kang – or at least this latest holder of the mantle of Kanimang Kang – was gone. Manservant Neville was once again presumed dead. Most importantly, Kanimang Kang’s Rube Goldberg device of death was no more.

Schlepping the dolphin back to Dubuque had been a chore, but it certainly beat the living meatballs-and-tomato-sauce out of being killed.

As the freight elevator door to the hallway leading to her bizarrely spacious yet annoyingly affordable loft opened, Wendy Watson looked ahead to see the familiar shape of Noser… no doubt once again seeking refuge in the hallway from the depredations of his roommate, Anvil.

“Yo, Wendy Watson.”

Noser’s voice was sweet and welcoming.

“Hey Noser,” replied Wendy Watson, “how you doing?”

“I’m breathing, Wendy Watson, but it’s become a chore.”

“Now that I’ve seen The Doctor, don’t call me anymore.”

Noser smiled as Wendy Watson pushed open the door to her loft.

WENDY WATSON’S BEDROOM/ART SPACE
11:45 P.M.

While the hard work of this – or, really, any – day in the service of O2STK generally insured a good night’s sleep, Wendy Watson found herself unable to summon the sandman, and thus busied herself with a new painting…

…of a man with a distinctive nose, pronounced brow, geometric jaw and a cascade of shiny brown hair. The portrait took shape quickly, the man’s image calling to her with the vivid urgency of a relevant memory; even though nothing in her past indicated the intersection of this man’s life with hers.

The colors followed quickly: the saturated earth tones of his Paul Smith shirt and the dark burgundy bow-tie popping against the warm inner glow of his pale, but not even remotely pasty skin.

Wendy Watson painted furiously but precisely: her every brush stroke capturing the elusive character of a man she had never met but was sure she knew… a moment in a time she was certain had never happened but felt as alive in her mind’s eye as any remembrance…

…and when the painting was done:

“That’s my imaginary friend!”

Lacey.

“What?”

“How do you know what he looks like, dub-dub?”

Wendy Watson swiveled her stool to see her equally photogenic roommate – still in the fatigues and beret she habitually wore to her Occupy Wall Street protest… and, thankfully, bereft of the swelling and redness she often brought home as a result of the sustained pepper spray attacks from the local police.

“What are you doing home?” Asked Wendy Watson.

“Oh,” she shrugged, “it got a little ripe inside the tent again, so we’re all going home to shower in shifts… how do you know what my imaginary friend looks like?”

Wendy Watson swiveled back and forth between Lacey and her newest work of art – head spinning:

“This is your imaginary friend? The guy who showed up in the fireplace of Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D., Ph.D.’s mansion all those times and kept you entertained with wild stories of time travel?”

“Yes, dub-dub, that’s him!”

“Your imaginary friend was a time traveling hipster sexgod?”

“No – it was nothing like that – I mean, yeah, I thought he was cute and all… but he was just an imaginary friend.”

Lacey’s voice took on a faraway tone as she completed her thought:

“I know that now.”

“Wait a minute – now you know that?”

“Oh, dub-dub… it’s not like Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D. Ph.D. didn’t already have me work all of this out with a team of psychotherapists when I was a tween… anyway, the last time I saw my imaginary friend… I was twelve: he promised he would come get me on the day of my graduation from art school…”

“You mean our graduation? And you never told me?”

“Like I said… I’d already worked this whole thing out with a team of mental health professionals.”

“Weird,” replied Wendy Watson, “I just thought I was painting one of the new baristas over at the Java Applet… I think that’s where I saw this guy anyway… he does look so strangely familiar.”

“Yeah,” Lacey replied dreamily, “must be a coincidence… and I have a world that needs to be saved, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shower…”

Lacey turned to walk down the spiral staircase, but not before having a final look at her best friend’s work.

“If you ever do see that guy? And it turns out he isn’t just a cute barista, but a time traveling adventurer from parts unknown?”

“Yeah, Lacey?”

“Tell him I’m over him.”

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
GRADUATION DAY
TWO YEARS EARLIER

The passage of time had only made Lacey Thornfield’s intelligence and inner strength brighter.

As she walked across the dais to collect her diploma – her cap and gown hand-painted with Guy DeBord slogans – The Doctor knew that she would make for a brilliant companion: the sort of beacon of innocent compassion that he direly needed to remind himself of what was truly important… of the simple truths that a creature of his 953 years could so easily forget.

The TARDIS would keep for a few hours undetected in the scenery shop of the school’s theater building. All The Doctor had to do was wait until she was alone, make eye contact, and the magic would return… off they would go…

…but The Doctor’s thoughts needle-slipped to a halt with the intrusion into his mindscape of a sound he had not even thought about for almost a decade and a half.

A harmonic resonance years-ago dismissed as no longer relevant to his existence.

The Eye of Harmony.

Opening.

Could it be?

The Doctor rushed back into the TARDIS – bounding through corridors and mezzanines, peeling back layer after layer of trans-dimensional architecture to reach a remote and neglected room: a piece of his own mythology he had long since discarded as no longer relevant to his day-to-day existence…

…and there, in the echoing chamber, the Eye glared up at him… and a numinous cloud of smoke and technology manifested over the storm at the center of the black hole that powered his ship.

At the center of the cloud?

A strapping man in an Eisenhower jacket – clear-eyed, full-hearted, and sporting that can’t-lose look so common of heroic human males; all of them always endearingly unaware of the vastness of space and time.

The man in the Eisenhower jacked seemed familiar – maybe from a long-forgotten episode of a past regeneration.

“Do to her what you did to Sarah Jane,” said the man in a flat, affectless mid-western American voice, “ and you will have me to answer to.”

And with that, he was gone.

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
THEATER ARTS BUILDING
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

Now perched on a scaffold, The Doctor watched Lacey Thornfield – this time through a window high atop the shop.

She bounded across the quad, carefree, with a group of friends – among them a dark-haired beauty with a focused and determined look in her coffee-colored eyes.

The Doctor trained his eyes on Lacey Thornfield’s friend for a moment… and her visage transported him to time he was certain had not yet happened, but which felt as alive in his mind’s eye as any remembrance.

He knew what he had to do.

Bowing his head, The Doctor climbed off the scaffold and returned to the TARDIS.

On the quad below, Lacey Thornfield fell behind her friends, slowing down to a walk for a moment to look up at the theater arts building.

For a moment, she could have sworn she heard the “arooga-thump” that always accompanied the appearance of her childhood imaginary friend… the one her mother paid an army of psychotherapists to dispel back when she was twelve…

…but the sound soon dissipated into nothingness, and Lacey Thornfield looked ahead to see Wendy Watson, beckoning.

Lacey Thornfield broke back into a run and joined her friends in celebration. The future was wide open.

Again, thanks to Javier Grillo-Marxauch for permission to repost his terrific story here.  For those of you who want to know about all the many geek references in this story, here’s a link to an accompanying post detailing all the wonderful, wacky, and just plan fun things contained and referenced within.  I hope you enjoyed this story, and I’ll be back in a week or two with more remembrances of long-forgotten short-run shows here on Friday @ 8/7 Central.  –Tim R.

Hank:  “Are you saying we’re small time?”
Britt:  “If we grow two sizes we might actually be small-time.”
Hank:  “What if we’re actually big time, and just didn’t realize it?”

–Best friends Hank Dalworth and Britt Pollack in Terriers

Britt and Hank, hanging loose while they can....

In my opinion, one of the best shows to come out of cable television over the last couple years is Terriers, which aired on the FX Network in 2010.  It sadly didn’t last, but for thirteen wonderful episodes it was one of the most unpredictable dramas viewers could possibly experience, with terrific characters and unique storylines that, like the namesake animals of the series title, grabbed ahold of you and never let go.

Terriers is primarily a buddy comedy with dramatic elements, telling the story of two down-but-not-quite-out best friends and their adventures as private investigators (unlicensed, naturally).  Hank Dalworth (Donal Logue) is an ex-cop, drummed out of the force some years back with a dishonorable discharge brought on by his (then) obsessive drinking.  While he’s now on the wagon (barely), he’s still trying to scrape together a livelihood and get back in the good graces of his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn).  She’s already met someone new after their divorce a year ago, but he’s hanging on, to the point where (after falling into some unexpected cash) he puts a down payment on their old house, because he still wants to life that life.

Katie and Britt

His best buddy is Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), a former thief who’s also trying to make a better life after living on the wrong side of the tracks, but his previous skills come in handy when trying to make ends meet with Hank.  Britt has a girlfriend, Katie Nichols (Laura Allen), who wants to settle down and have a baby at some point, but Britt’s fear of commitment and free-wheeling ways don’t mesh with a traditional idea of home and family.  This is especially true when he and Hank stumble upon an old friend who turns up murdered, and a conspiracy much larger than these two small-time buddies ever thought they’d be involved in.

Hank's former partner, Det. Gustafson

They do have a couple of allies, although their “friends” are also knowledgeable enough about both of them to be wary.  Hank’s former police partner Det. Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar) would love to trust Hank, but sometimes believes the best way to handle his old friend is to lock him up for his own protection, especially with the trouble he keeps finding himself in.  And lawyer Maggie Lefferts (Jamie Denbo) is trying to keep Hank and Britt out of the lock-up and throw a bone to the boys occasionally, hiring them to do some of the legwork she can’t do (because she’s going to give birth any day now, and the boys don’t mind getting roughed up anyway, as long as they give as good as they get).

So, in between odd jobs of retrieving pets caught in a messy custody battle and figuring out how to get a house loan with no “actual” job, Hank and Britt end up on the edges of a major conspiracy.  It seems to involve a rich land speculator named Lindus and his plans for a new economic development, and that leads to a sex scandal, possible carcinogens in the land, and stolen drugs in Mexico (among other things).  Hank and Britt could, at many different junctures, just cut and run, lick their wounds, and save themselves an awful lot of pain and trouble.  But despite their lack of money, lack of judgment, and (occasional) lack of common sense, they share one characteristic with the dogs mentioned in the title:  like Terriers, they’re loyal to a fault, and they will do their very best (and then some) to take care of their friends.

“I’m going to destroy you, Lindus.  I could have walked away from this thing an hour ago eating shit, and Jesus knows I’ve eaten enough in my life.  But you killed my friend, so I’m going to destroy you.  And I just wanted you to know that.”
–Hank Dolworth

So begins a very twisted tale full of unexpected moments of laughter and even more unpredictable plots.  At one point, Hank and Britt end up having to help developer Lindus… by stealing a quarter of a million dollars from him!  (He actually ASKS them to, and is willing to give them a percentage!)  It makes sense in the progression of the plot, but that’s the amazing thing about Terriers.  This happens during the thirteen episodes that you wouldn’t even dream of in most television series, but the plot twists occur organically out of the story and characterizations, so that even the outrageous becomes acceptable, to the point where the viewer can’t really imagine any other way.  And neither can Hank and Britt, as sometimes their best laid plans turn into their next nightmare, and sometimes their nightmares turn into gold anyway.

Tell me again... how are we gonna do this?

Characters designed as heroes are commonplace on television.  Even characters who don’t want to be heroes end up that way.  But in Terriers, we follow Hank and Britt as they try to overcome their worst enemies:  themselves.  And we cheer their successes… but we also understand their defeats.  Few of us could ever be heroes on television, no matter what we wish.  But far too many of us have been burdened with untenable choices, and while they may be a bit magnified as far as the stakes on Terriers, those lives are still far closer to our everyday existence than found on typical cop/lawyer/medical dramas.

Plus, there’s a definite friendship and camaraderie between Hank and Britt, and with all the regulars on the show.  You can tell there’s a part of Gretchen that would still love Hank, if only he’d become the man she knows is inside him.  Katie loves Britt, and accepts his past, but is a bit unsure of what the future holds with a man so reluctant to take the next step.  Det. Gustafson remembers what Hank used to be, and still stands up for him even when Hank himself falls, and lawyer Maggie sees something more in these two than just a handout, and is willing to help where she can.  But while Hank and Britt try to move forward, they won’t be able to without letting go of their pasts.  And the one thing about Terriers is that they never let go.

“Well, we saved her.  Now who’s gonna rescue our asses?”
–Britt, after helping a friend to safety

Hank couldn’t let go of his ex-wife.  Britt couldn’t let go of his single “freedom”.  Neither could toe the line long enough to find a reasonable job, let alone be successful at it.  But when they saw a need to help someone they cared about, they did something.  And if that something led to more, then that trail got followed too, no matter where it led or how far in over-their-heads they got.  Because that’s who they were and what they did.  And whether it led to a Mexican drug cartel, a multi-million dollar conspiracy cover-up, or just making sure a friend’s daughter was safe from trouble, they did it.  And occasionally, they fell into some badly needed cash along the way.

What they didn’t fall into, unfortunately, was ratings.  Anyone who ever actually saw the show seemed to love it.  It was a critical darling, making many reviewers Top 10 lists for the season, and even drawing some early Emmy buzz, especially for Logue as Hank.  But it aired on cable, on the less-watched FX Network, and the early advertising (and the name Terriers) did the show no favors.  Airing at Wednesdays at 10/9 Central and premiering against more high-powered and better-promoted offerings on traditional networks, a great many people never even knew it was on, and others thought it was a show about dogs.  Add to that its adult subject matter and realistic language issues and the family audience was out immediately.  Quite simply, viewers in any quantity just missed it completely.

“I can’t blame an audience. I’ve never in my life watched a TV show in its first season.  I always have to wait several seasons for someone to say, ‘You have to see this.’  That’s how I discovered The Wire and The Shield.  I don’t know the secret to getting people to watch a show in its first season.”
–Creator Ted Griffin

It’s that kind of world these days.  Networks have been so callous with new shows, yanking them off so quickly, that some series don’t even last more than a couple of episodes.  And viewers have had their collective hearts broken enough times that many shows don’t even get sampled, let alone have people find time to watch consistently.  Add to that the troubles of accurately measuring viewers, and the multiple ways for shows to be seen online and time-shifted with DVRs, and viewing numbers simply aren’t what they used to be, and eyeballs aren’t being consistently counted anyway.  Terriers was a perfect storm of ineffective promotion, a minor cable network provider, and a changing audience.  While that doesn’t stop a great series from existing, it does stop one from continuing.

The end? Or a new beginning?

Although stars Donal Logue and real-life best friend Michael Raymond-James embarked on a cross-country promotional tour for the show, the numbers just weren’t there.  The “Never Let Go” attitude was clear from all involved, from Creator to Stars to crew and more.  Fans and critics were passionate about the show, but even if the show had earned twice the ratings, it still would have been the lowest-rated series on the FX Network.  And yet, FX Network tried long and hard to make the series work for them.

Even in cancellation, Terriers was different.  Most shows just fade away, with networks sometimes not even admitting the stoppage of production.  Knowing the small but intense number of people who dearly loved Terriers, FX President John Landgraf took the unprecedented move of having a half-hour press call to announce the demise of the show, and to take questions from critics and other reporters about its end.  While he lamented the cancellation, and called Terriers a credit to the FX Network, even he was a bit baffled about the lack of audience numbers:

“I don’t think there’s anybody to blame.  We wish that there was a perfect intersection between all that is good and all that is successful, but the reality is that there’s a very poor correlation between creative success and commercial success.”
–John Landgraf, President of FX Network

Even the network was heartbroken about the ending of Terriers, let alone all the others involved.  One producer said,  “This is both the most painful and painless cancellation, because you really like the show and hate to see it go, but it was such a great time.”  If you get to watch Terriers, you’ll find that those sentiments weren’t just true for the production of the show, but for the viewing of it as well.  Once you find Terriers, you will have something in common with Hank and Britt.  You’ll never let go.

Give us one more chance. Just one more....

DONAL LOGUE (Hank Dolworth) has starred in many series, including Grounded for Life (which ran 5 years), The Knights of Prosperity, and Life (each of which only ran one short-but-critically-acclaimed season).  He’s also a writer and producer, creating the independent film Tennis, Anyone?, and will be seen in a new ABC pilot (and prospective series) for next season from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry called Hallelujah.

MICHAEL JAMES-RAYMOND (Britt Pollack) is best friends with Donal Logue in real life, which contributed significantly to their on-screen chemistry.  He’s gone from California in Terriers to Louisiana as a recurring member in True Blood (even though he had never even heard of the books upon which it is based when he got the job).

KIMBERLY QUINN (Gretchen Dolworth) has guested on Ned and Stacey, Suddenly Susan, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Without a Trace, and The Secret Life of an American Teenager.  She’s appeared in multiple episodes of Two and a Half Men and House, and has also been seen in numerous commercials over the past decade.

LAURA ALLEN (Katie Nichols) is best known to genre fans as part of the original cast of The 4400, playing Lily Tyler.  She later was a regular on the series Dirt, and has guested on Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy.  She was also featured with an amazing cast in the movie Mona Lisa Smile, playing a student at Wellesley College, which she graduated from in real life.

ROCKMOND DUNBAR (Detective Mark Gustafson) has been in many series, starting as a recurring character on Earth 2 and Girlfriends.  Lead roles in Soul Food and the medical drama Heartland followed, with his role a “C-Note” in Prison Break being his most famous part.  Most recently, he’s remained on the FX Network, joining the cast of Sons of Anarchy.

JAMIE DENBO (Maggie Lefferts) specializes in comedy, and was a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe out of New York.  Her appearances on television include numerous sketches on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, multiple roles in Reno 911! and Children’s Hospital, and recurring parts in Suburgatory, Weeds, and Brothers.  She starred in the short-lived series Happy Hour, and recently sold a script for a movie called Best Buds, which actress Natalie Portman is reportedly going to produce and star in.

Surprisingly for this modern era, Terriers has yet to receive a DVD release, although FX has claimed that the very small original audience is to blame, and that they just can’t make money off the projected sales.  There is hope, however, as the show has recently been made available through Netflix Instant, for those who have access to the service, and episodes are also available for purchase and download at iTunes and Amazon.  Since it was a critical darling, there are many news websites which talk about its short run and unfortunate demise, using it as a case study in poor marketing, unfortunate scheduling, and just plain bad luck (series star Donal Logue injured his shoulder/arm during the pilot, and it is basically unusable during much of the series… but he’s such a good actor and the production worked around it so well, it’s almost unnoticeable unless you’re actively looking for it).

Battered and broken, but still ready to go

“We don’t want to stop making this show…”
–Donal Logue

I don’t want to stop watching, either, and others have felt the same way.  But the thirteen produced episodes do complete a story, and while another season was plotted out to some degree, there’s an ending there if you do choose to find it and watch.  While Terriers is not for youngsters, it is for those viewers who like character-based drama and comedy, and plots you won’t find on any other show.  I find, after going back and reading again what I’ve written above, that it’s difficult to really express how good Terriers actually is, and I can only hope that those with Netflix access can stream the show and discover Hank and Britt, and their constant struggle to find their own versions of happiness.

If I learned nothing else from watching Terriers, it was that the circumstances don’t matter.  Yes, they may bring you down, and the choices people make are sometimes not the easiest or the best.  But when push comes to shove, I’d like to have Hank and Britt on my side.  And even though there may be stumbles every so often, and an occasional fall… I know that they’ll do what they can to be there, loyal to a fault.  Because once you have a friendship like that… you never let go.

Vital Stats

13 hour-long episodes — none unaired
FX Network
First aired episode:  September 8, 2010
Final aired episode:  December 1, 2010
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, Wednesday nights at 10/9.  But hey, so few people found it (Terriers averaged less than a million viewers per episode) that it may as well have aired in the middle of the night.  But it was still worth it.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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