Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch Batman! “The Impractical Joker” / “The Joker’s Provokers”

“The Impractical Joker” / “The Joker’s Provokers”
Written by Jay Thompson and Charles Hoffman
Directed by James B. Clark
Season 2, Episodes 21 and 22
Production code 9723
Original air dates: November 16 and 17, 1966

The Bat-signal: We open with the Joker in the Keyborn Bookstore taking a book called The Keys to the Kingdom and tearing it up, then going to the Keynote Music Shop and smashing the record You’re the Key to My Heart. Then he sets fire to the Gotham City Key Club’s confidential membership list and messes with the sign on the Keystone Building.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce is helping Dick with a geography paper, about the Rock of Gibraltar and how it’s the key to the Mediterranean, and how that should be the keynote of his paper.

Gee, I wonder what the theme of this episode is going to be…

Gordon is willing to have the GCPD handle all this when it’s destroying books and records and files, but once O’Hara reports the vandalism to a building, then he decides that it’s time to call in Batman. (Just go with it.)

As the Dynamic Duo arrive, a new prank is discovered: they’re changing all the locks in GCPD HQ, and in amidst the shipment of new keys is one in the shape of a human skeleton: an actual skeleton key. And it comes with a note: “Latched or mastered, skeletoned or passed, spot the Scot before you’re outclassed.” As it turns out, Angus Ferguson is in Gotham with an exhibit of his collection of keys, and it’s pretty obvious that that’s the Joker’s target, particularly the priceless Key of Kaincardine, which has been handed down from generation to generation in Ferguson’s family.

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Elsewhere, Joker has just cut a key that can open a box he has created, which he says is the key to victory over Batman and Robin, to the confusion of his two henchmen and his moll Cornelia.

Batman and Robin show up at the exhibit and browse a bit. When they check out the Key of Kaincardine, Joker also appears, opens his box—which seems to hypnotize the Dynamic Duo and leave them frozen in place—and then makes off with the key. Our heroes come to, dazed, to discover both Joker and the key to be gone.

Ferguson and his comedy Scottish accent are livid. He intends to sue the city for $8,000,523 and a three-penny bit. He also calls Batman and Robin “muttonheads.” Batman can’t bring himself to argue with that particular assessment, as he has no idea how Joker immobilized them.

That evening, Bruce and Dick watch the news, then switch over to The Green Hornet. (Subtle, Dozier, very subtle…) But the adventures of the Hornet and Kato are interrupted by the Joker, who barges in on the TV signal to taunt Batman for being foiled, failed, and frustrated, and to give him a hint as to his next caper: “don’t give a hoot for the hobnailed, but look for a bow and bobtails.” Bruce and Wayne forego the adventurous stylings of Van Williams and Bruce Lee to head to the Batcave.

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Focusing on the second half of the clue (since he opened the first half with “don’t give a hoot”), they deduce that a bow refers to the loop in a key, and that the “bobtails” refer to a bobtailed lynx of a type used at Franchin’s Fancy Furs. The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder arrive to find Joker and Cornelia raiding the furs therein. Fisticuffs ensue, but Joker and Cornelia get away, though Joker’s little black box is smashed.

They return to the Batcave, where the Bat-computer spits out various things that the word “key” is used in. Alfred suggests that Joker may be using a false name that employs the same key-related wordplay as everything else in this caper, and Batman immediately lets his fingers do the walking (wonders who reading this is old enough to get that reference) and has the Bat-computer scan the phone book for key references. They settle on Clavier Ankh, and head to his address.

But the Joker was counting on that, as he’s ready for them. They enter Ankh’s apartment (through the window after a bat-climb, of course), and find Cornelia, who leads them to a trap door that drops our heroes to the basement. Batman is placed in a human key duplicator that will grind him into a giant key, while Robin is placed in a wax spray cleaner that will cover the Boy Wonder in wax.

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The Joker leaves to take care of other business, and while the henchmen are busy gabbing at each other (talking about how the Joker killed their parole officer, kidnapped the jury in their trial, and also threatened the family of the judge—all much nastier things than this iteration of the Joker generally does on camera…), Batman takes a spare house key out of his utility belt and uses it to gum up the works of the human key duplicator, freeing him. Fisticuffs ensue, and Batman takes the henchmen out, and frees Robin. He brings the wax-covered Robin to the Batcave and sprays the Boy Wonder with wax solvent—luckily, his underwater diving lessons allowed him to hold his breath.

Joker is philosophical about Batman and Robin surviving his deathtrap, especially since he has apparently been able to create a time machine. (Just go with it.) He plans to stop time unless the city gives him ten million dollars. He plays with the box, making things move faster and slower or stopping time. Gordon calls Batman, and they’re all remarkably casual about Joker having made the greatest breakthrough in scientific history. Joker sent a note to Batman via Gordon in the shape of a key. It reads: “Thanks to the work of a single sphere, you saw what happened to time right here! Now regard with care my final o-ho… I’ve a gargoyles key and away I go-go!”

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Batman and Robin seem to think that “o-ho” symbolizes H20, or water. (Never mind that water is two H’s and one O.) That leads them somehow to the conclusion that the Joker wishes to poison the water supply—especially since a night watchman at the reservoir spotted someone “resembling” the Joker there two nights ago. (“Resembling”? He’s got white skin and green hair, who else would it be????? And why wasn’t this investigated two nights ago???????????????)

Alfred’s cousin Egbert is night watchman in question, and so, at the butler’s own urging, Alfred replaces his cousin on his shift while Batman and Robin stake the place out. Sure enough, Joker, Cornelia, and the henchmen show up to poison the reservoir. Alfred has fallen asleep at Egbert’s post. He’s awakened by the Joker’s entrance, and discovers that the Joker bribed Egbert last time (with a mere five bucks). Joker pours Alfred a glass of nice fresh water (from a sink that has a sign over it that says “GOTHAM CITY NICE FRESH WATER”) and puts a couple of his poison pills in it.

Alfred insists that the others also have some water, which Joker refuses—so Alfred pulls Egbert’s gun on them. He also gets Joker to hand over his little black box, and he uses it to freeze all four of them in time. After summoning Batman and Robin, he makes the mistake of removing the key from the box, which unfreezes the bad guys. They threaten Alfred, but our heroes show up in time to save the butler. Fisticuffs ensue, and Batman and Robin are triumphant again.

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Harriet runs out of gas near the reservoir, and goes to the night watchman for help—and recognizes him as Alfred. However, he continues to act as Egbert, convincing Harriet. Then Batman and Robin show up to give Alfred a midnight snack, and offer to giver Harriet some of the spare gas in the Batmobile. And so all’s right with the world.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The Bat-capsule dispensary includes counter-hypnosis bat-pellets, which our heroes take to counteract the Joker’s little box. The Bat-computer input is big enough to fit a phone book, which Batman unceremoniously tosses into it; the computer then instantly scans the whole thing, which means Batman has OCR tech in 1966 that’s even better than what we have today…

Alfred also gets into the act, with his Alf-cycle and his two-way Alf-radio.

Holy #@!%$, Batman! When shown the Joker’s literal skeleton key, Robin mutters, “Holy vertebra.” “Holy key ring” is Robin’s utterance upon learning of Ferguson’s collection. When he first sees the Key of Kaincardine, he whispers, “Holy keyhole.” Upon being informed of Joker’s past as a hypnotist, Robin grumbles, “Holy mesmerism.” “Holy pseudonym!” is Robin’s cry when Alfred suggests a nom du plume for the Joker. After “deducing” that “o-ho” symbolizes water, Robin cries, “Holy hydraulics!” and adds “Holy floodgate!” when they realize that Joker will poison the water supply.

Gotham City’s finest. When Batman suggests that Joker is after Ferguson’s key collection, Gordon totally tries to say that he thought of that, too, even though he so totally didn’t.

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Special Guest Villain. Cesar Romero makes his first second-season appearance as the Joker, having last been seen in the feature film. He’ll be back in the show’s first three-parter, teaming up with Burgess Meredith’s Penguin in “The Zodiac Crimes”/”The Joker’s Hard Times”/”The Penguin Declines.”

No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Cornelia explains to the Joker that she’s a woman and not old like him, so of course she spends all her time staring at herself in the mirror…

Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.

“Oh, I know diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend, but I could get real chummy with some mink or ermine. Ooh! I’ll take three or four of these, and a couple of gorillas.”

“I think you mean chinchilla, Cornelia. One of the rarest and most costly of furs.”

“Oh, well that’s exactly what I mean.”

–Cornelia fur shopping and Joker correcting her.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 29 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Gary Mitchel of the The Revcast and Dragon Con’s American Sci-Fi Classics track.

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The window cameo is Howard Duff, in character as Detective Sam Stone of The Felony Squad, who says he’s in Gotham following a lead. And he looks back inside to tell “Jim” that Batman and Robin are brave men, referring to Stone’s partner, Detective Jim Briggs, who was played by Dennis Cole. Duff will return in the third season’s “The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra” as Cabala, one of the villains, alongside real-life wife Ida Lupino in the title role.

Kathy Kersh plays Cornelia. She and Burt Ward hit it off almost immediately, and Ward got a quickie divorce from his first wife and married Kersh the following February. Their marriage only lasted a couple of years.

For the first time, Part 2 opens, not with scenes from Part 1, but instead with William Dozier saying, “When last we left our heroes…” and summing up the cliffhanger only before rolling the credits.

Alan Napier plays a dual role in this one, playing Alfred’s cousin Egbert with a working-class accent.

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Pow! Biff! Zowie! “There should be more fine, upstanding men like the Joker.” The Joker invented a friggin’ time machine!

I mean, yeah, okay, other stuff, but the Joker invented a friggin’ time machine! Why is everyone so casual about this? And why is the Joker’s endgame to hold up the city for money when he could patent and sell the time machine technology for probably a lot more than ten million bucks?

I know, I know, it’s the logic of superhero stories, particularly Silver Age ones, but it’s one thing to suspend your disbelief regarding, say, the thing that sucks all the water out of you from the movie, but we’re talking a friggin’ time machine!

Sigh.

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The rest of the two-parter kind of wanders around a lot. “The Impractical Joker” runs the key theme into the ground, but “The Joker’s Provokers” doesn’t do as much with it, preferring to let Alan Napier stretch his acting muscles a bit and let the producers show off the “reverse” function on their cameras while Joker plays with his friggin’ time machine!!!!!!!! Plus, since when is the Joker the one who provides wordplay related clues? It’s almost like this started out life as a Riddler script, but the contract dispute with Frank Gorshin that kept him away this entire season led to them rewriting it for the Joker.

Kathy Kersh looks really good in a purple bodysuit, which is pretty much all she has going for her—I suspect she and Burt Ward bonded over their mutual shortcomings as actors. Cesar Romero’s always fun to watch cavort. And it’s fantastic to watch Alan Napier as Egbert and as Alfred paying Egbert, and it’s especially awesome to see Alfred actually beat the Joker and his goons. But ultimately, this is a scattershot mess of an episode that stretches suspension of disbelief way past its breaking point.

Bat-rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s Stargate SG-1 novel Kali’s Wrath is now on sale as an eBook from Amazon, Amazon UK, Crossroad Press, and Smashwords. The print book will be available in June. In addition, check out Keith’s seasonal Stargate Rewatch right here on Tor.com.

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