Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) - Night of the Clones

The villain is just cloning around in the fourth episode of the '70s Spider-Man TV show.

Nearly twenty years before the controversial Clone Saga would play out in the pages of Spider-Man comic books, but a few years after the first time Spider-Man fought a clone of himself on the page, the late-'70s The Amazing Spider-Man television series decided to spin its own clone story around the heroic webslinger. Of course, they didn't bring comic book villains Jackal or Green Goblin into the show, they thought using villains from the Marvel Comics source material would drive away adult viewers. So they just introduced another "Random Guy in a Suit" villain.

Made at a time when Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) had to explain to Rita Conway (Chip Field), the secretary to Daily Bugle newspaper chief J. Jonah Jameson (Robert F. Simon), just what exactly cloning is, this episode casts Lloyd Bochner as Dr. Moon, a former zoology teacher of Peter's who has secretly made a clone of himself, intending to wow the judges who choose the winner of the prestigious Tovald scientific award. When someone starts trying to injure or kill Tovald committee members there's reason to suspect Moon of doing it because he's always in the running for this award but never the winner. However, it's actually Moon's clone who is doing the evil deeds. Certain stabilizing parts of Moon's personality were not passed over to his clone; they're like Jekyll and Hyde, and when Moon tries to sedate his clone to stop the criminal acts, the tables are turned on him and he's sedated himself.

One of the people Moon 2.0 attacks is Lisa Benson (Morgan Fairchild), the granddaughter of the committee chairman. Swinging through a window to save her, Spider-Man cuts his hand on a shard of glass, which is a nice humanizing touch for the way the superhero is presented, but also provides Moon with a blood sample that he uses to create a clone of Spidey. Quite a way for him to learn that Spidey's secret identity is Peter Parker. And like the Moon clone, this clone of Peter comes out bad.

In the midst of all this, there's a minor "Peter Parker is just a regular, cash-strapped guy" subplot where Jameson assigns Peter to cover the Tovald committee's costume party. Since Jameson won't cover the price of a costume, Peter enlists the help of his elderly Aunt May, who was played by Jeff Donnell in the TV movie that started this series but is played in this episode by Irene Tedrow. May suggests a Frankenstein's Monster costume, but rules it out because Peter can't stand the sight of blood. There is his late uncle Max's swashbuckling Errol Flynn costume... Wait a minute, uncle Max? Why would this show change his uncle's name from Ben to Max? Regardless, that costume rips when Peter tries it on.

Of course, Peter has a great costume already in his closet. Can you guess what he wears to the party?

The climactic fight happens at the costume party, with Spider-Man fighting the Spider-Man clone, who's wearing a spare costume he stole from Peter's apartment. Just when you think we're going to be able to tell the two Spideys apart because Peter only has one utility belt for his costume and he's the one wearing it, the belt falls off mid-fight.

Directed by Fernando Lamas (father of Lorenzo) and written by John W. Bloch, Night of the Clones is actually a loose adaptation of a specific story from the comics, which is something I didn't expect to see on this show, especially given its reluctance to use the rogues gallery. Although inspired by the 1975 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man that made up the "Delusion Conspiracy", it does pare it down to the basics of the concept: a former teacher of Peter's makes a clone of him. The reason for the creation of the clone is different, the villain is different, and there's no sign of Peter's love interest Gwen Stacy here. She played an important role in that story that would make no sense on this show, because she would have had to have already been very firmly established. Gwen Stacy doesn't exist in this series.

Still, it is good to see them using ideas from the comics.

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