Monday, January 18, 2016

Sam Waterston is Q.E.D.

Last year, I reminisced about seven obscure TV shows that I saw long ago and had never seen again. One of them, The Senator starring Hal Holbrook, was released by Timeless Media on DVD last June. I recently discovered that another, Q.E.D., has been uploaded to YouTube.

Sam Waterston stars as Quentin Everett Deverill, a Harvard professor circa 1912 who leaves the university when his colleagues rebuff his idea for a device that can receive transitted signals from an antenna and turn them into a moving image (no TV for them!). Deverill relocates to England to "pursue his studies in private and peace."

However, a newspaper headline about the unexplained disappearance of a yacht skipper catches his attention. When the missing man's sister shows up, Deverill delves into the mystery and unmasks an elaborate plot to destroy London with an explosive rocket. The villain behind this horrid crime is Dr. Stefan Kilkiss, a "brilliant, wicked man...and international saboteur." Matching wits with Kilkiss, the quick-thinking Deverill saves London and escapes from the villain's lair (quite stylishly) in a hot air balloon.

The cast of Q.E.D.
There is much to like about the first episode of Q.E.D., from Waterston's high energy performance to the charming period detail and Julian Glover's broad portrayal of Kilkiss. However, the limitation of the show's concept begins to surface in the second episode, "The Great Motor Race." It's little more than a condensed version of Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969), though there's a nice twist at the climax. With the exception of George Innes as Deverill's multi-talented assistant Phipps, the supporting characters have little to do other than marvel at the inventor's ingenuity. A casting change doesn't help with the spunky Sarah Berger essentially being replaced by Caroline Langrishe (they play different characters technically, but serve the same function).

The third episode is an improvement, with Deverill being forced to develop a remote-controlled bomb for nefarious uses by Ian Oglivy (the former Simon Templar playing against type). Kilkiss returns for the fourth episode, which boasts the added bonus of being set aboard a train. Both episodes are reasonably entertaining, but it's easy to see why CBS and ITV decided not to renew the series. I suspect that both networks were concerned about whether the show would connect with contemporary audiences. The period sets probably added to the cost of producing Q.E.D. as well.

The bottom line is that Q.E.D. might have fared better as a limited run series on Masterpiece Theatre. That strategy worked amazingly well for other period-set TV series such as the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries which flourished in the 1970s.

Sam Waterston on Law & Order.
Sam Waterston didn't return to series television until I'll Fly Away in 1991, a short-lived, critically-acclaimed drama about a Southern lawyer in the late 1950s. Of course, he found his greatest success a few years later when he joined the original Law & Order as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy. He played the role in 368 episodes spanning seasons 5-20. He also starred as McCoy in seven other episodes of the Law & Order spinoffs and in a made-for-television movie.

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