The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×11: A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away
The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.
This week, a royal visitor to Gotham City provides a trap... from the Prince of Puzzles!
Episode 1x11: A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away
Script: Fred De Gorter
Director: Tom Gries
Original Air Date: February 16, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
This week's episode of Batman marks two firsts for the series. The most obvious, of course, is that it's the first time we've gotten a second appearance for an arch-criminal, with the Riddler returning only a month after his presumed death by explosion under the Moldavian Embassy at the end of "Smack in the Middle," which is something that I actually like. After all, the returning villains have usually been soundly defeated at the end of their last caper, so at least this time, it doesn't look quite so much like Warden Crichton is falling down on the job.
Second, and probably more importantly, this is the first adventure of the series that wasn't based on a comic book story. The show has certainly taken a lot of liberties with its source material in the past, but this time, it's all original for the screen, and in a lot of ways, that makes it feel like the first episode of the show that really has the sensibility that we know as the TV show completely intact. If the previous episodes weren't Batman '66 fully formed, this one certainly is.
We open at Gotham City International Airport, where King Boris (Reginald Denny, who would go on to play Commodore Schmidlapp in the Batman movie, his final film role) is arriving from whatever vague European monarchy he hails from. After a brief interview with a bunch of snap-brimmed reporters, he's approached by a young schoolgirl who hands him a bouquet that she claims is from the Welcoming Committee.
I'm skipping ahead a bit here, but it will not surprise you to learn that this tiny young lady, Mousey (Susan Silo), is not actually a schoolgirl, but is in fact part of the Riddler's new gang. Apparently it did not take the Riddler long to get over the death of Molly.
Instead, she's just there to deliver the bouquet, and just after she fades away into the crowd at GCI, the bouquet explodes, launching a sinister conundrum into the air:
At Police Headquarters, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara take one look at this thing and decide that it is beyond their ability to deal with and that it's time to call in the only person who actually does any crime-solving around here. Interestingly enough, Gordon mentions that "a long time ago, I gave up trying to figure out who he was; I owe him too much for that," which implies that there was a time in the world of '66 where Gordon and Batman had a much more uneasy relationship.
Meanwhile, at stately Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson -- secretly Batman and Robin -- are playing a game of chess:
Bruce wins, naturally, but what really gets me about this scene is that his chess set has red and white pieces instead of the usual black and white. This isn't entirely uncommon, but I do think it's worth noting that Batman's chess set does not, in fact, have a dark knight.
After explaining to Aunt Harriet that they're off on another fishing trip, Batman and Robin head off to police headquarters, where Robin quickly solves the riddle: A person is like a piece of wood when they're a ruler. I've always really liked that Robin is always the one that solves the riddles, but a) that is a dubious answer at best, and b) considering that this riddle was literally handed to a visiting monarch, I'm not sure we really needed four people to tell us that King Boris might be involved in the Riddler's scheme.
Batman, however, dismisses this idea since there was no attempt to kidnap him at the airport, instead suspecting that the Riddler is after the priceless tiara being bestowed upon the winner of the Miss Galaxy: Queen of Beauty pageant, and concocts a trap for his quizzical foe: a fake tiara containing a homing device that will lead the crimefighters directly to his lair.
Sharp-eyed viewers may realize that this is exactly the same plan that they tried with Zelda the Great and the Star of Samarkand in the previous episode, and that it completely failed then. Apparently, the Caped Crusader is not exactly one to learn from his mistakes. Well, that, or the dude just really likes making fake jewelry. Either way, the plan goes into action the next day at the pageant.
Just after the title of Miss Galaxy is awarded to "Southern City's own sparkling-eyed beauty, Julia Davis," the Riddler pops up through a trapdoor in the stage, plants a very unwelcome kiss on Miss Galaxy, and makes off with the crown -- and the tracking device. The Dynamic Duo moves to the Batmobile to trace him with the car's Homing Receiver Scope, only to find that the Riddler is popping up from a nearby manhole -- the same manhole, I assume, that he escaped from back in the pilot after drugging Batman and trying to steal the Batmobile.
I don't know what story they read, but apparently someone at Batman '66 got the idea that the Riddler was just super into hanging out in sewers. I mean, I guess it makes sense since that's what he was doing in his first appearance and that particular crime spree never really stopped, but still, it's a little weird.
The Riddler reveals that, much like Zelda, he knew the crown was a fake all along, and snaps it in half, offering up another riddle: "What room can no one enter?" before disappearing back to the underground, leaving Batman to reveal that the Riddler once told him, "A riddle a day keeps the Riddler away." Hey! That's the title of the episode!
Back at the Batcave, Robin answers the first riddle -- a mushroom -- and we get the second that was left with the tiara: "What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end, and the end of every race?" Seeing it written out probably makes that one a little easier: It's the letter E, although oddly enough, that doesn't seem to come up in the rest of the episode.
Instead, we cut to the underground lair of the Riddler's new gang, the River Rats, replacing the captured/atomized Mole Hill Mob from the pilot:
In their underground "Rat-Cave," the Riddler reveals that he has another plan at the Royal Mushroom Club, where he plans to enact "plan 13-Z" -- "The end of Batman and Robin!"
At the club, King Boris is showing off a miniature replica of the Queen of Freedom statue and, after remarking on the quality of the wine, is led on a tour of the wine cellar, which he agrees to, claiming that when it comes to wine, he's "like a small boy looking at expensive bicycles," which is a pretty amazing simile that I encourage you to use as often as possible. It's in the cellar that he's met by Batman and Robin, who warn him, somewhat futilely, of a plot against him:
The King's cavalier dismissal is proven wrongheaded when Batman and Robin are distracted by a rack of tricked-out wine bottles that pop their corks, allowing the King to be abducted quite literally right under them through a trapdoor. And not only that, but the Riddler managed to rig up the entire scene, taunting them with a sign hanging from the rafters:
The "two steps" are two scrolls in on the stairs (get it?) inscribed with the following riddles: "How much dirt is in a hole three acres square and 200 feet deep?" (None, there's no dirt in a hole) and, "What won't run long without winding?" (A river, although Robin also suggests a stairway, which is a much better answer).
To find the connection, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave for a look through his computer database of Gotham City Plans and Views, focusing on the winding bends of the Gotham River, discovering the Gotham City Water and Power Plant -- an obsolete building measuring three square acres with underground facilities reaching 200 feet deep.
At the Water and Power plant, Mousey seems a bit starstruck by their kidnapped monarch, saying, "I've never met royalty before! It's pretty thrilling!" and sets the Riddler up for one of the best villainous monologues of all time. I know I mentioned it in the first episode, but it can never be overstated just how good Frank Gorshin was as the Riddler, and how much the way he played the role formed the template for modern supervillains, particularly the Joker:
"Royalty? You never met royalty? Just whom do you think stands before you, my cherub? I am the prince of puzzlers, the count of conundrums, THE KING OF CRIME! I HOLD COURT HERE! NO ONE ELSE!"
Just typing it out doesn't really do it justice. If you haven't seen it lately, go out of your way to track it down and give it a watch, everything Gorshin does is solid gold. It's also during this scene that he reveals that he doesn't actually want the miniature (and extremely valuable) statue, nor does he particularly want to hold King Boris for ransom. He has, continuing the chess metaphor, "reduced the king to a pawn" in his plot to kill Batman.
Batman and Robin arrive at the plant and do a Bat-Climb up the side of the building, which, once again lacks the cameo appearance that would later become a hallmark of the series. It makes sense that it would -- it's not like Steve Allen's going to be hanging out at an abandoned power plant at all -- and instead, we get a discussion of the elements of democracy.
The Dynamic Duo arrives, but they've stepped right into the Riddler's trap: A web-like net that catches them, leaving the Riddler to simply release King Boris, his usefulness having ended now that the trap no longer needs bait.
That's something that I really like about this episode, and something that follows pretty directly from the Riddler's first appearance. There's not a whole lot of continuity to the show, but here, despite Batman's initial claim that the Riddler goes after millions, this crime isn't about money. It feels more like it's about revenge -- all the Riddler wants to do, at least in this first half of the adventure, is kill Batman, and while that's usually a goal for some part of the arch-criminals' plots, here, it's the focus, just like it was with Mr. Freeze a few weeks ago. It's never really stated just why there was a shift from the usual robbery, but it's hard not to think that when you drop someone's girlfriend into an atomic pile and then leave him for dead after an underground explosion, they might be a little mad when they show up again five weeks later.
Which leads us to a full-on BDSM shoot.
The Riddler has strapped Batman and Robin to the turbines of the Water and Power Plant: "These drive shafts rotate at one thousand revolutions per second, that means the centrifugal force will tear the bones from your body, but before I start them spinning, I'd like to spin off one last riddle: You might have a minute to solve it before you die. Now then: Why is a woman in love like a welder?"
And with that calamitous conundrum, the cackling crook leaves Batman and Robin to their hellish fate! What will become of our heroes?! Be here next week, readers -- The worst is yet to come!
Oh, and incidentally, the stuffed dummies that they have in place of Batman and Robin are maybe the most hilarious thing I've seen on the show so far.
Index of Episode 1x11:
Homing Receiver Scope
Gotham City Plans and Views Computer
Obsolete Water and Power Plant Driveshafts