"A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away/When the Rat's Away the Mice Will Play" (S1/E11 & 12) Author: Chris Clow (Follow @CHRISCLOW)
Date: January 3, 2014
SYNOPSIS PART 1: The Riddler has returned to Gotham in hopes of kidnapping the visiting King Boris. Will the Dynamic Duo be able to figure out the many riddles and save the King?
PART 2: Batman manages to escape the Riddler's death trap. He and Robin decide to lay low until they can figure out the Riddler's caper. Meanwhile, the Riddler frees King Boris, who brings a gift to a major monument in Gotham City. It turns out the Riddler has substituted a bomb for King Boris's gift and he is demanding a ransom. The Riddler, though, overplays his hand, enabling Batman and Robin to capture the Riddler and his gang.
“A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away/When the Rat's Away the Mice Will Play” was written by Fred De Gorter. and directed by Tom Gries. They were first broadcast on February 16th & 17th, 1966 on the ABC television network.
Although The Riddler was regarded as a second or third-rate Batman villain before this series went on the air, one of the most undeniable elements of its legacy is that it thrust the character into the top tier of The Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery. Frank Gorshin’s charismatic, eccentric, and off-the-wall take on the character proved to be a great connection point for fans of all ages, and The Riddler today is regarded as one of the absolute best Batman villains ever because this series gave him the proverbial “shot in the arm.”
For his second major appearance on the show, Gorshin returns as The Riddler in a daring plot involving a visiting head of state, a king, from another country. Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the monarch in question, King Boris, is played by actor Reginald Denny. Denny would only begin his association with William Dozier’s “Batman” with this episode, as he would go on to play the somewhat absent-minded Commodore Schmidlapp in 1966’s BATMAN: THE MOVIE.
More of the somewhat nonsensical logic on display from the first two episodes returns here in order to keep the tone and answers of the riddles pretty light. Much of it boils down to the wordplay, with the first riddle of the episode – “When is a person like a piece of wood? When he’s a ruler.” – being a good example of this. Of course, the leap in logic from that answer to the international chess tournament, with $25,000 in prize money up for grabs, is a bit of a stretch. But who cares? It’s fun, and it helps to move the plot along.
Overall, Batman takes a pretty different approach this episode in bringing The Riddler out of hiding, by actually letting him get away with the crime that they think he’ll be all too ready to commit. Of course, when Riddler actually shows up, he also steals a kiss from the newly-crowned “Queen of Beauty,” before the next part of the plot sees the “Prince of Puzzles” seemingly outwit Batman and Robin.
While there’s generally little use in critiquing the plots of the episodes except in a few instances over the course of this series, it’s every other embellishment around the relatively rigid structure that continues to make this show, and these episodes, so engaging even nearly 50 years after they were first aired.
While Gorshin was clearly a standout in his first appearance as The Riddler, this episode helped cement him as one of the show’s undeniable icons, and the whimsical tone that goes into the writing of his plots and puzzles helps to further accentuate the deft farce that this series attempted to establish itself as.
You can’t help but smile.
West and Ward also seem to be a little more aggressive in these episodes, if that’s possible. This is the first point in the series where a villain had returned from a previous episode, and perhaps the actors’ familiarity with each other helped to punctuate their on-screen rivalry just a little bit. That’s just a guess, though, but it certainly seems that Frank Gorshin’s manic intensity is complemented by a bit more of a vigorous pursuit on the parts of the Dynamic Duo, as well as some slightly angrier line delivery from both West and Ward.
This is another episode that isn’t based on any particular comic book story, as would become common over the course of this series. These two episodes comprise half of writer Fred De Gorter’s contributions to the overall show, and he would finish his tenure with the season two episodes “The Puzzles Are Coming” and “The Duo is Slumming.” It’s a shame that he couldn’t have written more since these episodes are competently executed from the writing perspective (insofar as the rules of the show allow), but there’s no denying it: the true star of these episodes is Frank Gorshin’s second turn as The Riddler.
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: February 16-17, 1966
SCREENWRITER: Fred De Gorter
DIRECTOR: Tom Gries
BAT-FIRSTS: First episodes featuring a returning villain.
BAT-QUOTE: “BATMAN: There are some things we can do using the good old-fashioned way: using the telephone book.” ROBIN: “I must be getting lazy!”