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By Tom Soter
I HEX is one weird series. It features a hero who is bitter, self-pitying, cruel, and at times, cowardly. He is a hexer (the show’s term for magician), and it is set, for some reason, in 1543, in the English town of Dover (although, inexplicably, almost everyone speaks with an American accent).
I HEX was another Christian Doherty creation. He wrote and spoke the creepy opening narration, which, like much of Doherty’s work, defies logic: “The year is 1543. People come to him from far-off lands. They come to him with their problems, hoping that he, the magician and hexer, can solve them. And lo to anyone who defies the hexer’s powers in the wrong way…” (I guess it’s okay to defy his powers in the right way.)
Anyway, that was all the writing Doherty did; the rest was improvised by the two of us, irrespective of logic and historical accuracy (in the first episode, for instance, “The Magician,” the hero refers to a wristwatch). I don’t know where we got the idea for the show; all I remember is that the title was a takeoff on the then-popular TV spy series I SPY, starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. But where the Cosby/Culp series was light and frothy, buoyed by the two stars’ charisma and camaraderie, I HEX is dark and brooding, with Doherty playing the lead character, Philip Richardson, as an angry man who hates being a hexer and does everything for money. He’s a kind of savage Jim Rockford; a private detective who happens to be a magician.
Like most noirish eyes, Richardson is contemptuous of his clients (he knows they mean to trick him), bargains for more money yet settles for less (in one episode, he demands 60,000 bags of gold as payment for his services, but agrees to 400), refuses to handle divorce cases (in the first episode, when King Tobias asks him to get evidence concerning his wife’s fidelity, Richardson says, “I don’t handle those kind of cases, only battles”), and is ultimately a loner (a self-pitying one, too; in the first episode, he claims, “I must be the loneliest man on earth,” while in the third, he says he cannot settle down with a woman because “nobody loves a hexer”).
Richardson is probably the most unappealing hero in Doherty’s gallery: cruel and greedy, he spends most of the time yelling at people who seek him out for help and the rest of the time threatening to destroy them if they don’t acknowledge his greatness. The character was ripe for parody, which is what Tom (“Siny”) Sinclair and I did when we made a third episode on our own, “The Deadly Sceptre of the Sun,” with Siny replacing Christian in the lead role (on tape, the actors purportedly playing the hexer were Todd Richards – Doherty – and Henry Walden – Siny).
Siny and I brought over the absurdist sensibilities we employed on our signature series together, JOE AGENT OF VAT. As with some episodes of JOE, we actually didn’t make up the plot, just reinterpreted it, reading dialogue and descriptions from a comic book. In this case, it was an issue of the Gold Key STAR TREK comic (actually called the “Sceptre of the Sun”; as we did in the VAT series we added “Deadly” to the title). As Richardson, Siny outdoes Doherty for self-pitying lunacy, and makes Richardson even nastier – and a coward to boot (at the first sign of danger, he says, “I’ve got to get out of here,” and he quickly caves in to a rival hexer’s demands when that hexer turns Richardson into a toad).
Unlike the Doherty episodes, the Sinclair show is played for laughs (and it has some unintentional ones, with our constant stumbles in reading the dialogue and our mispronunciation of such words as sceptre, façade, and robot). We also improvised bits: we added a character called “The Ringer of the Mountains,” after Richardson complains to a character, “You pulled a ringer in on me.” But mostly, we were mocking the overly serious sensibilities of the original series as well as the poor writing in the Gold Key comic.
And we were also having a lot of fun, as well, which was the main reason we did it, of course. We certainly didn’t do I HEX for the money. Hey – someone paying us for I HEX. Now that would have been a real magic trick!
Episode 1. Taped: September 12, 1970
Richardson is approached by King Tobias, who suspects that his wife and her lover are plotting to kill him. Richardson: Todd Richards. Tobias: Clint Dastern. Rival hexer: Ty Phillips.
Episode 2. Taped: August 31, 1971
A hexer from another dimension tests Richardson’s powers. Richardson: Todd Richards. Merlin: John Montezuma. Hexer: Samuel Florence.
The Deadly Sceptre of the Sun
Episode 3 Taped: 1971
Henry Walden takes over as the embittered magician Philip Richardson in this episode that finds the hexer forced into service by a more powerful sorcerer who threatens to turn Richardson into a toad. Xanadu: John Tobias.