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Crime Lord to Time Lord: Three Kinds of Heat

Sylvester McCoy arrives in America only to be greeted by some Asian gangsters and a hail of bullets. Not the opening of the 1996 TV Movie, but the beginning of the 1987 low-budget crime actioner Three Kinds of Heat! 

I’ve always said that Doctor Who is a wonderful gateway to amazing worlds of literature, television drama, comedy and cinema. Enjoying the work of Terry Nation and Chris Boucher introduced me to Blake’s 7. I saw The Brain of Morbius long before I saw James Whale’s beautifully haunting Frankenstein. That said, an interest in the show can also introduce you to some utter tosh – Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger, Lost River, Confessions of a Private Eye 

Following a Doctor Who actor’s career can be both enlightening and infuriating, and this new irregular feature will find me sharing some of the more obscure and bizarre results that I find as I trawl through various actors, directors and writers’ careers. 

This week is Three Kinds of Heat – a cheap and tacky transatlantic crime thriller which boasts two Doctors and a companion in supporting roles. There will likely be spoilers along the way, though it’s such a predictable movie that they shouldn’t hamper your enjoyment of its rather dubious charms.  

Poster artwork for Three Kinds of Heat (1987)

Following a gangland shoot-out at JFK airport, US Agent Elliot Cromwell (Robert Ginty playing a sort of Poundland James Bond) is teamed up with NYPD cop Terry O’Shea (Victoria Barnett playing the only member of the NYPD with their own soft lighting) and Hong Kong police officer Major Shan (played by Shakti Chen in full conspicuous Hong Kong constabulary regalia throughout). The official synopsis makes a point of highlighting that both female cops are “attractive” and “tall”, so it’s good to know that the distributors know exactly what audience they’re after. The trio are on the trail of a mysterious crime boss, tracking him from New York to London to…er… New York again. 

Initially, O’Shea and Chen don’t see eye to eye and their snappy back and forth suggests that this could be a progressive gender-flipped mismatched buddy cop movie. Soon enough though, sleazy Cromwell is engaging in some inappropriate workplace conduct and the female cops are stripping down to their underwear to fit in at a fashion show. Oh well. The fashion show provides one of the most hilariously convoluted money laundering schemes in cinema history. It’s a scheme that involves stolen gold bullion, a threading machine, expensive dresses and airport baggage allowances. The trio has arrived at the show in pursuit of the small-time criminal who they believe has crucial information on the identity of the mysterious head of the Black Lion syndicate.

Anyone who’s seen The Usual Suspects can probably figure out where this is going… 

Sylvester McCoy isn’t as small-time as he initially appears

Said small-time hoodlum is played by Sylvester McCoy, dressed suspiciously like the Seventh Doctor in the New Adventures novels. Released in 1987, the film would have been made around the time that he started in the role of the Doctor. It appears that during the 1980s if you cast Sylv you also cast his hat. He doesn’t have much to do for most of the film’s runtime – ducking for cover in the opening gunfight and looking shifty and sweaty in a fireworks factory. Given your tolerance for cheap and cheesy action movies, you may find your patience waning between glimpses of McCoy.  

Don’t worry, it’s worth the wait – the final confrontation back at the fireworks factory is peak-McCoy. All rolled R’s and hissing menace. It’s a bit like that “pull the trigger, end my life” bit from The Happiness Patrol if, instead, the Doctor had spat “You tried to kill me, bitch!” then shot both guards in the guts. It’s also an absolute hoot to see him firing an uzi into the air with an elaborate cigarette holder clamped between his teeth. 

Whilst you’re waiting for the over-the-top climax you’ll be treated to glimpses of both Mary Tamm (Romana I) and Trevor Martin (who played the Doctor in the Seven Keys to Doomsday stage play) as a glamorous and despicable criminal couple who at one point order someone to kill McCoy’s arse dead. I’m paraphrasing there, but only very slightly. Tamm is, as ever, incredibly glamorous with a different costume in each of her scenes vamping it up as part gangster’s moll part Lady Macbeth. Martin is terrific too, gleefully veering into cockney gangster stereotypes as he growls orders at the bent copper on his payroll.  

Trevor Martin and Mary Tamm as a criminal couple

Overall, Three Kinds of Heat is the sort of corny, outdated, straight to VHS fare that was legion in the early days of home video. It’s badly made, occasionally culturally offensive, sexist and the script is so cringeworthily juvenile it could be an episode of Torchwood. And yet, it’s a right laugh. Where else can you see Sylvester McCoy play as a pugnacious gangster trading punches with a corny special agent and inadvisably brandishing firearms in a fireworks factory? Where else, outside of a hotel function room can you see the 7th Doctor, the stage Doctor and Romana I all share a stage? It’s a proper Doctor Who curio and, if you fancy it, it’s currently available to view via a VHS rip on YouTube. I advise watching it after a couple of drinks with plenty of junk food and low expectations. 

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