Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sad Week for Sci-Fi Fans

This has been a sad week for sci-fi and television fans around the world, as we say goodbye to two of our most talented and celebrated stars.

I was very sorry to learn that actor/writer/director Patrick McGoohan passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80. With a great career that spanned six decades and took him from TV classics to roles in big budget Hollywood movies, Patrick McGoohan was still undoubtedly best known for his groundbreaking 1960s ITV series The Prisoner.

Technically innovative, bold in its choice of subject matter and cannily prescient all at once, The Prisoner challenged viewers with its impressively intelligent scripts and liberal use of satire and symbolism, giving us a wonderfully unique series that has weathered the test of time like few others. The show was McGoohan's own from the very beginning -- apart from co-creating and starring in the series, he also ghost-wrote and ghost-directed many of the episodes. The famously difficult Hugo-nominated final episode, Fall Out, is still the focus of heated debate forty years later, inspiring enthusiastic discussion, theorizing and argument on internet home pages devoted to the show even today.

In the course of his career, Patrick McGoohan gave audiences something unique and enduring -- and for that I hope we'll always remember him.

Sadly, Wednesday saw the passing of Ricardo Montalban at the age of 88. Montalban certainly needs no introduction to science fiction fans; his famously deranged Khan Noonien Singh struck the Star Trek movie series like a vengeance-crazed lightning bolt in 1982's Wrath of Khan, traumatizing us for good. Still considered to be the high point of the film series, his Ahab to William Shatner's Moby Dick -- played out in maddened Shakespearean excess -- reminded many why they loved Star Trek in the first place, and paved the way for the enormously successful franchise that followed.

Of course, his career reached further than just outer-space maniacs in Star Trek, and to a wider audience he will always be better known as the mysterious Mr Roarke -- proprietor of the strange Fantasy Island, where any dream could come true... for a price. Montalban was so unforgettable in this 1970s/80s smash TV hit that he has never quite dropped off the pop-culture map ever since; Mr Roarke and his sidekick Tattoo still show up when you least expect them -- whether you're watching Looney Tunes, South Park or Futurama, they're never that far away.

Ricardo Montalban left an indelible mark on American TV and film -- and you can't honestly say that about many actors, can you? He will certainly be missed.

The Guardian newspaper has a retrospective of Patrick McGoohan's career which you can read here... and a look at Ricardo Montalban's work here. Both are well worth a click.

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