An utterly subjective wish-list of the things I’d like to see, and the things I never want to see again!
We seem to live in an age of reboots, remakes, spin-offs, prequels, sequels and adaptations. I mean, fair-dos, there’s a ton of good stuff out there, but there is also a small herd of dead horses that people will insist on flogging! So here, in no particular order, are some things I’d like to see, and some I wouldn’t!
TV Reboots I’d Like to See
The Champions: This fantasy/espionage programme ran for three seasons (30 episodes) in the late Sixties and was repeated into the Seventies. It featured three agents of an organisation called Nemesis, who were involved in a plane crash in the Himalayas. Awaking in the wreckage, apparently uninjured, they found themselves in possession of enhanced mental, sensory and physical abilities as well as some psychic powers. Later they discovered that they had been rescued by members of an advanced hidden race, who had not only healed, but upgraded them. They decide to continue working for Nemesis but to keep their powers secret. I enjoyed this one because the agents’ ‘powers’, were neither overdone nor overused. They were always just that little bit better than the foes they faced, but not to the point that the danger wasn’t real. A modern reboot would give them a little tech to play with as well!
The Mind of Mr J G Reeder: Set in the 1920s, this was a detective series, also from the late Sixties, based on a series of stories by Edgar Wallace. Mr Reeder, described as ‘fiftyish and weak-looking’, is an expert on forgery who has moved to the fictional Public Prosecutors’ Office. His particular talent is his ‘criminal mind’, the ability to think like a criminal. This not only allows him to detect criminal activity that others don’t see, but also to use the failings and weaknesses of the criminals own thought-processes against them. The cases involve some Holmesian deduction, but mostly centre around psychological manipulation of the villains and elegant ‘sting’ operations. Mr Reeder also carries an automatic pistol under his respectable suit, and his tightly-furled umbrella conceals a 12-inch blade. I’d prefer this set in period, but a modern adaptation could also work.
Sapphire & Steel: An enigmatic and sometimes impenetrable SF/Fantasy shown in the late Seventies which concerns the two eponymous ‘operatives’ being sent on missions to times and places where ‘Time is breaking through’, causing disappearances, deaths and disasters. Steel is cool, logical, possesses immense physical strength and has the ability to cool himself, and subsequently anything he touches, to near-Absolute Zero. Sapphire is charming and intuitive, she can analyse objects and people by touch, and has the power to create short time-loops or to ‘rewind’ time for a short distance. Together, they deal with hauntings, objects and people that are ‘out of time’ and the attempts of hostile beings from ‘outside Time’ to force their way in. It deserves another look, given the developments in physics and new theories and speculations on the nature of time.
The Saint: Leslie Charteris’ ‘Robin Hood of Modern Crime’ has been absent from our screens too long, with the last attempt being the Val Kilmer film of 1997. That miserable mess reduced the irrepressible, dashing, wisecracking Simon Templar to a melancholy thief with a (totally unjustified) abusive childhood. Let us have a proper Saint back. Give us an action comedy with a devil-may-care hero who has no ambiguities, self-doubt, ex-wives and alcohol-dependency problems. There’s enough doom and gloom around, thanks.
Shows That Should Not be Rebooted
Poirot: David Suchet is Poirot, for the next few years, anyway. The various feeble attempts to bring us a new Miss Marple after Joan Hickson show how an actor can define a role, or fit it so perfectly as to make it impossible to follow. Suchet did this with Poirot.
Sherlock Holmes: Jeremy Brett gave us the definitive performance in the eighties and nineties in a series of respectful period adaptations. Since then, we have had the breathtakingly awkward British updating of Sherlock, starring an insanely miscast Benidorm Cabbagepatch (or whatever his name is), the American Elementary, which, despite the names of the characters, was just one more US cop show, and two films starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law which have much to do with spectacular action and nothing to do with detection.
The Wacky World of Adaptations
I know, I said it before, there’s a lot of good stuff out there, but adaptations are a dodgy business.
From Game of Thrones, we learn not to adapt until the saga is over. Season 8 took a nose-dive in quality and a spanking from fans because a writing team who had been, up to then, adapting, had to make it up as they went along.
The recent BBC War of the Worlds, though well-made, well-written and performed, and entertaining in its own right, did what every other adaptation of this particular work has done and deviated wildly from the book. One understands, but does not necessarily approve, the politically-correct urge to turn the story into a female-led one. But the jointed-leg fighting machines again bore no resemblance to Wells’ stiff-legged steampunk creations, which moved by tilting from one leg to another. The insectoid Martians themselves were also a world away from Wells’ bear-sized, thin-tentacled, clumsy aliens. Did no-one at the BBC stop to think that such a creature would instantly be crushed under Earths’ heavier gravity? Or that muscles evolved on light Mars would be no match for the strength of any but the puniest human?
I am given to understand that the ongoing adaptation of His Dark Materials is a good one, but as I have not seen it, I will comment no further.
One property that does need a good going over is the Harry Potter saga. The books themselves are a classic case of ‘publish as you go’. Great for pleasing deadline-obsessed publishers, not so great for the reader. Rowling should have written the whole thing down in one go, then gone over it backwards. That would have enabled her to settle inconsistencies like Hermiones’ middle name (changed from Jane to Jean because of Umbridge), and moved a lot of the exposition which is 80% of Half-blood Prince to earlier books. This had its effect on the films, causing much to be ruthlessly cut out and necessitating the splitting of the final volume.
Never mind. What that story calls for is a TV adaptation. Each book made as three or four 90-minute episodes, filmed and shown a year apart, so that the kids age properly with their characters. You could add in the bits missed out of the films and make a better job of the developing relationships.
Personally, I would love to see a 21st-century update of 1975s’ Three Days of the Condor. A tale of subterfuge, intelligence organisations out of control and ‘black’ operations that could only be enriched by the addition of modern hacking and other techniques.
Two films that badly need another look are based on pulp characters. 1994s’ The Shadow takes this sinister, omniscient, amoral character and turns him into a standard superhero. A bright and breezy romp which comes nowhere near the menace of the pulps. Let’s go back to a dark world of racketeers and terrorists who are themselves terrorised by an unseen and ruthless nemesis.
In 1996, we were treated to The Phantom, another colourful romp which did no justice to its’ original. The supernatural elements of the film were never part of the stories, and the Phantom as written is a far more sober and mature character.
The ludicrous farrago that was the 2009 film Solomon Kane also deserves to be redeemed by a more respectful and accurate rendering of Howards’ grim Puritan.
Franchises that Should be left to Die
Spider-Man: After however many attempts, they still can’t get it right. Peter Parker was a character of his time, and that time is gone. Leave it alone.
Batman: Two bites at this. One a complete mess, too dependent on the high camp of the Sixties TV show. The other…pitch-perfect. Any more would spoil it.
Star Wars: Three classics. Three tedious, nonsensical, prequels. Three pretentious but lacklustre sequels. A couple of pancake-flat spin-offs and far too many TV cartoons. All done, goodnight.
Star Trek: “Blasphemy!” I hear you cry. Tough. It was never all that good to begin with. Unrealistic to the max — check out Babylon Five for what life will probably be like in the future (pretty much just like now but with spaceships). The original series was Shatner chewing the scenery, Nimoy impersonating a stuffed owl and Kelley phoning it in. Hippy philosophy mixed with gung-ho cowboy action. Next Gen was better, with a decent ensemble cast headed up by a real actor, but still the same warm and fuzzy and fake version of future life. DS9 was a tedious attempt to copy B5 and Voyager, with the best will in the world, was bland. Enterprise was a missed opportunity, and Discovery is who knows what. The cinematic reboot was poor, just poor. I look forward to the upcoming Star Trek: Picard with equal measures of anticipation and apprehension. Sir Patrick Stewart is physically incapable of turning in a poor performance, but I dread the scripts! The franchise has been driven into the ground among innumerable red-shirted corpses and overloaded AIs. Enough already! Let’s go watch Galaxy Quest, by Grabthars’ Hammer!
What I’d Like to See
Mass Effect: A trilogy of games that could be turned into three action-packed movies or three character-developing mini-series.
More Terry Pratchett.
Elric of Melnibone: We who were geeky teens in the Seventies have waited too long to see the albino warrior-mage make a screen appearance.
Proper adaptations of Isaac Asimovs’ robot stories.
More Terry Pratchett.
Chris Brookmyre adaptations.
More Terry Pratchett!