Metal Mickey: Series 1 Review
"Ready! Steady! Are you set for Metal Mickey?" Unless the theme to the show in question threatens the viewer with the thought of Terry Wogan surprising them by suddenly appearing in their living room, there's no song that promises so little enjoyment. "He's your number one! He weighs half a ton!" They should have added, "He offers zero fun!" or "He's a pain in the bum!" Then again, such a note of frank honesty wasn't expected from the same comedy department within ITV who had commissioned Mind Your Language and who were thinking of casting Henry Kelly in Game For A Laugh, a man who couldn't raise a laugh even as he spent his later career confusing Belgian contestants on Going For Gold, who could no more understand his accent than conjure gold out of their beards.
I admit, I'm only here as I have fond memories of Lucinda Bateson, who played Haley, the looks-considerably-older-than-sixteen girl in the Wilberforce family who left a nine-year-old me knowing that it was definitely girls where it was at. Only that, at nine, I didn't quite know what 'it' was but I knew that girls like Haley had it. Even at the age of nine, though, I knew that Metal Mickey wasn't the comedy that ITV were claiming it to be, not when the robot Mickey moved with all the grace of a bulldozer, is only slight more coherent than those voice synthesisers available in the early years of the home computing boom (see WarGames and Whiz Kids) and whose moments of comedy come from everyone's clothes falling off.
Invented by Ken (Ashley Knight), a teenage electronics whiz in a time when that seemed an exciting thing to be, Metal Mickey comes to life when Janey (Lola Young), the girl from next door, pops an Atomic Thunderbuster in his metal mouth. Although mostly concerned with the boogie and a supply of Atomic Thunderbusters, Mickey settles in with the Wilberforce family - Bootface, Dippy, Clever Clogs and the rest - while finding that, "I's got the power!" Before long, he's taking control of the vacuum cleaner (Metal Mickey Lives), falling in love with Haley (Mickey in Love) and avoiding being taken away by a pair of officious civil servants (Top Secret Mickey). Mickey also helps Haley and Steve (Quadrophenia's Gary Shail) with their homework (School Master Mickey), falls ill (Hiccy Mickey) and gets kidnapped (Taking the Mickey). He gets into trouble counterfeiting money to keep Gran (Irene Handl) in betting slips and gin (Mickey Makes Money) and, in the final episode, Music Man Mickey, has a pop hit, learns the real meaning of family and finally gets old Bootface to boogie.
Irene Handl plays Gran like the Queen Mum. Or, like most of us and the makers of Spitting Image imagine how the Queen Mum was, all gin, copies of The Sporting Life, moaning about eating beetroot and kippers and flashing her knickers. Otherwise, there isn't much fun to be had with Metal Mickey. It has moments, as when Gary Shail is stripped of all his clothes barring his Y-fronts but knowing what a good gag this is, Metal Mickey uses it once again in the final episode. Colin Bennett and Roy Kinnear make cameo appearances, the first as a nervous kidnapper and the second as a busker who talks Metal Mickey out of suicide, adding to the cast. It's Michael Stainton as Father who does best out of Metal Mickey playing opposite Georgina Melville (as Mother). Answering mostly to Bootface and disappearing, as would William Gaunt in No Place Like Home, to the greenhouse, Stainton is the put-upon father typical of the British sitcom, married to a dim woman many years his junior and completely unable to understand his children. It's not even clear that, by the series' end, he sees Mickey as being capable of independent movement or whether he still believes that Ken and his big red remote control is behind it.
All eight episodes of the first series of Metal Mickey are included on this release, with each one falling into place in a shade over twenty minutes. Inasmuch as almost every buyer will be one who remembers Metal Mickey from its first broadcast in 1980, it's still worth stressing how many gags depend the popular culture of the time. Y-fronts are always funnier than boxers or briefs but younger viewers might find themselves shocked at just how sturdy such pants are, perhaps believing the wearer to be incapable of movement in them. In spite of all the talk about dancing, Metal Mickey comes from the pre-Ecstasy years when the only people able to dance were the medically insane while the journey back in time to when divorce was still a dirty word, when children shared rooms (and probably bath water) and whole families sat around just the one television may be one that older children might be confused over. And amidst all of that, the best gag in the series comes as a couple shy away from Metal Mickey saying that, "They'll do anything to sell that mashed potato!" Those not familiar with the Smash robots may not find very much to laugh at. But I did, although perhaps only on the odd occasion and not often enough to make this a comedy.
Is it snowing? It certainly looks as though it is when this DVD starts with white flecks sparkling all over the screen. Metal Mickey comes from the time when television shows were taped onto video for interior shots and on film for location shoots and, as it is elsewhere, the difference between the two is obvious. Mostly, though, Metal Mickey was shot on video with all the softness to the picture, the blurring and the light trails that that implies. On a big screen, it's not unwatchable but it's not a particularly flattering picture with far too little detail. The white spots of those first couple of seconds continue throughout the presentation of the series with Network having done little to restore Metal Mickey for DVD.
Otherwise, the DD2.0 Mono audio does what it needs to do to present the audio in a fit enough state to understand what is being said but it's Metal Mickey himself who rather lets things down. The pilot has a Mickey who's is barely able to be understood. It does get better with School Master Mickey but without subtitles, there are still moments that the viewer will quickly rewind just to hear what it is that Mickey is saying. However, in terms of the audio, it's otherwise fine but little else is particularly noteworthy about it.
There are no extras on this DVD release. They could, like the R1 Special Edition of Forbidden Planet, have slipped a little Metal Mickey into the case. Or a packet of Atomic Thunderbusters. Either would have done.