Department S 1.17 – A Ticket to Nowhere

If you’re a regular reader of this dopey blog, you’ve certainly run across me saying that Peter Wyngarde shoulda played the Master at least once opposite Tom Baker. Usually when I say something like this, I’ve got a silly illustration to “prove” my point. See, here’s Wyngarde along with Anthony Ainley. He’s one of several familiar faces this time with teeny little parts, including Juliet Harmer and Neil McCarthy. I wonder whether Harmer is meant to be playing the same character she played in the first episode.

Michael Gwynn is also here, in a variation of the “photo of the recognizable actor” problem we talked about in the previous episode. There’s also a recognizable location. The country club where the villains all gather is the Edgwarebury Hotel, which shows up in all sorts of adventure programs from the day, most obviously as the escape-proof hotel in the Avengers episode “Wish You Were Here”.

Tony Williamson’s script is a complete cracker, one of the best so far. The villains are using ultrasonics to brainwash their victims and wipe memories. This is definitely the sort of larger-than-life wild criminal scheme I enjoy in this kind of show, with the added plus that these are very clever villains who are ahead of the heroes for most of the story. This comes to a head in a great scene where Stewart and Jason return to Paris having no idea that they’re even on a case, much less who put the whammy on them the day before.

Department S 1.16 – Dead Men Die Twice

And now back to 1969 and more cases from the files of Department S. Tonight’s head-scratcher is from the pen of Philip Broadley, who asks why two men have entered a morgue and pumped two slugs into the corpse of a fellow who died the night before from a heart attack. Curiously, the dead man is a dead ringer for a crime lord who himself died three years previously. Except unfortunately the producers cast a recognizable face in the role and showed us his photograph. It’s actor Kieron Moore, who usually didn’t appear in no-lines parts that an unbilled extra could have played.

It’s a problem we’ve run across a few times with British television from the period – the Avengers installment “The Living Dead” comes to mind – and so the question isn’t really going to be “Is the crime lord really dead,” it’s “how is Annabelle going to get out of this mess?” This is, pleasantly, a good showcase for the character, and I enjoyed the scene where she rattled one of the crime lord’s former rivals, played by David Bauer.

The kid didn’t enjoy it all that much, unfortunately. Maybe it was a more twisty mystery than he prefers, and maybe Annabelle stays in trouble for longer than he found comfortable. I have to agree it’s not a particularly strong adventure, but it has a few good moments.

Department S 1.15 – Last Train to Redbridge

This is another episode that didn’t really satisfy me as I’d hoped. It’s the celebrated installment where a London Tube train rolls in with all nine of the passengers in one of the cars dead. It’s a heck of a hook, but the script is far too linear, with no twists and turns. The villains delay things for a good while by giving Jason a dose of memory-fogging nerve gas. A few wrong turns in the script would have been preferable to several minutes of “Try to remember!” Derek Newark plays one of the thugs; Patricia English a witness who gets involved and in great danger.

Interestingly, the villains’ base is in a shuttered and disused Tube station. I reminded our son that we’d seen one before. In The Borrowers, the action takes us to the long-abandoned City Road station. He didn’t remember that plot point, unfortunately, but I find the subject completely fascinating. Sadly, this episode seems to cheat with its setting and creates a fictional one: Post Office. Apparently, the real Post Office station just changed its name in 1937 and became St. Paul’s; it didn’t actually shut down.

But there are a pair of interesting little diversions from the real world into this fiction: this notice in the photo above tells commuters to pick up the Standard for the latest news from Ron and Reggie Kray’s trial. The opening caption tells us that the episode begins on November 22. In our universe, the Krays’ trial ran from January to March of 1969. “Last Train to Redbridge” was the fifteenth episode produced, and shown 22nd in the ATV region’s broadcast order, in January 1970. We also hear imitations of President Nixon and Prime Minister Harold Wilson. I don’t think there are any Department S dating arguments like Who fans occasionally have with the 1970s UNIT stories, but just in case, there’s a little evidence.

That’s all from Department S for now! We’ll return the DVDs to the shelf to keep things fresh, but we’ll be returning for the remainder of the series in August. Stay tuned!

Department S 1.14 – Les Fleurs du Mal

Another Philip Broadley script, another case that isn’t really fanciful or odd. It’s a fairly ordinary case of Stewart bluffing the villains until help shows up. It is unfortunate that we’re this far into the show and Stewart’s still telling Annabelle to stay behind when she repeatedly proves that she’s more resourceful than he is and ends up saving the day.

The villains – and there are a lot of ’em this time – include familiar faces Alex Scott and Michael Gothard. Edina Ronay is a femme fatale in an extremely unflattering wig. Ronay and Gothard’s characters share a very mod pad. It’s quite 1969.

Department S 1.13 – Who Plays the Dummy?

I knew I was going to like this one. The DVD menu revealed / spoiled that we’d see ITC’s white Jaguar going over the cliff for the third time at our blog, and then the credits showed that Tony Williamson wrote it. He was one of the greats! There’s a heck of a lot of great stunt driving in this episode, and sure, some of the moving-between-cars stuff is faked in the studio, but it’s still exciting since we just don’t know how this story’s going to play out. Of course the kid had a great giggle when I reminded him what car Jason and Annabelle are driving, even if he couldn’t quite remember the make. “These shows love to have that white Tiger crash!”

Joining our heroes this week, there’s Kate O’Mara in far too small a part, and George Pastell in a bigger role, maybe making up for only using him for a couple of lines in episode eight. Alan MacNaughtan is the main villain. I’m inclined to enjoy watching bad guys who oversee their schemes from a helicopter.

I was glad that Wyngarde and O’Mara got to share a little screen time. I’m sure I mentioned somewhere before my silly idea that in some parallel world, Wyngarde shoulda played the Master opposite Tom Baker once or twice. I’m perfectly prepared to amuse myself by using the way the actors appeared in this scene to illustrate a fic-in-my-brain of the Master and the Rani having some argument in Madrid, 1969.

Department S 1.12 – The Shift That Never Was

This story by Donald James begins with an amusing setup: every worker at a chemical plant, both on the floor and in the office, phones in sick for a day. Only two didn’t phone in: the secretary, who can’t be found, and the fellow who never, ever called in to miss a shift, who is found dead in the river. The setup is a fine start to an intriguing scheme, but I thought it was done without any sense of urgency or wit. Annabelle gets more to do in this story than most. Watched over by a thug played by Leslie Schofield, she is resourceful, cunning, and cool under pressure, and calmly uses psychology to get the upper hand. She’s the best part of this episode, which doesn’t happen often.

Department S 1.11 – The Man Who Got a New Face

I was giggling about all the Volkswagens in a previous episode. Well, this time, the brick-walled back of the studio substitutes for three separate locations on three separate days, and they neglected to move the parked cars around, so the same red and white Beetles show up all three times. They also use the footage of the red Renault going over the cliff, which we saw in a Champions last year. And speaking of The Champions, the episode, written by Philip Broadley, is another good one, and it features Alexandra Bastedo, shown above…

…not to mention Adrienne Corri…

…plus Wyngarde rocking a green shirt like nobody else ever could.

Department S 1.10 – The Double Death of Charlie Crippen

A minor moment of personal disappointment this time: the beautiful Veronica Carlson shows up to see Jason, but she has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. George Pravda also shows up for a single scene as a red herring in this incredibly interesting mystery. Edward de Souza has a meatier part. He plays an old friend of Annabelle’s who finally gives them a lead in this convoluted case when he gets a thorough beating from some thugs in the employ of an exiled king hanging out in a villa outside Naples.

I quite liked this one, but our son did not enjoy it at all, I’m afraid. This one was so convoluted that he became frustrated, and when we finally do understand that it has something to do with this king in exile, it’s not really pitched down to his age level, so we paused it a couple of times. First we assured him that we – and our heroes – were every bit in the dark as he was, and later we caught him up to the plot. At least it ends with a lot of machine gun fire and cars driving fast. Weirdly, the terrorist gunmen are all packed into a hippie van and the Italian police show up in three Beetles. Did Volkswagen offer ITC a package deal?

I was most interested to see Department S’s boss finally enter the field. Dennis Alaba Peters was a late addition to the cast, and his very short scenes in several of the early episodes were added after the fact. This seems to be the first story that was written to actually include the character of Sir Curtis Seretse in the action. As a high-ranking diplomat attached to Interpol, he can throw some muscle around that the other heroes can’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong word. I don’t expect we’ll see him in many fistfights, you know.

Department S 1.9 – Black Out

Easily the best of the four episodes written by Philip Broadley that we have seen so far, “Black Out” had our kid completely thrilled. At one point, there’s a fast cut between Stewart getting his gun ready and the baddies’ henchman doing the same and he said “wow!” During the countdown at the end, he was about ready to pop like a cork.

It has a great opening hook, too. A man is found in a Mexican desert with no memory of how he got there. He tells the local policeman, played by Paul Stassino, that he’s a chef and food critic and that the last thing he remembers was going to see an opera in Covent Garden three days ago. Some villains are using a memory-wiping drug, but why the heck do they target this guy and drop him on the other side of the planet? Stassino’s only in this one for a small scene, but Neil Hallett and Sue Lloyd play the villains, with Stuart Damon doing some uncredited voiceover work as an American broadcaster reporting from Cape Kennedy.

Interestingly, Stewart is walking with a limp in this episode and is using a cane in most of his scenes. Evidently Joel Fabiani injured himself, but there aren’t any deep-dive Department S blogs out there packed full of production minutiae, like the indispensable Randall and Hopkirk (Declassified), to satisfy my curiosity as to what happened!

Department S 1.8 – The Treasure of the Costa del Sol

When this dull hour finally finished, my wife knew exactly what the problem was. The counterfeiters, she said, didn’t even have the decency to wear turtlenecks.

For longtime readers, that’s a callback to an old gag of mine I’ve deployed about a bunch of seventies American shows – The Six Million Dollar Man being the biggest target because it ran so long – that should have been about evil supercomputers and android duplicates every week, but went with far more mundane stories most of the time. This one begins with two American playboys in the south of Spain shooting each other over a $100,000 payoff. How this ends up in Department S’s hands I can’t imagine, but conveniently the cash turns out to be the payoff for a counterfeit operation that Interpol’s already working on.

Anyway, the script is by Philip Broadley again, and it’s as routine and ordinary as his previous two, with the added insult of being really boring. George Pastell and Isla Blair can’t save it, and neither can John Louis Mansi’s flatly unbelievable fake drunk routine.

Image credit: ITC Entertainment Blog

Department S 1.7 – One of Our Aircraft is Missing

This is more like it! This is the first of five episodes written by Tony Williamson, who was working on all sorts of programs I enjoy from the late sixties. Assuming you can believe in the idea of a jumbo jet having an automatic landing system, then you can believe in the mechanics of this strange mystery, because a Boeing lands in London with all the passengers and crew missing and no signs of violence. It turns out that somebody was onboard who wasn’t supposed to be, and several powerful industrialists, including guest star Anton Rodgers, want to keep that a secret.

Honesty compels me to say that I don’t think for a minute this criminal plot would possibly work in the real world, because there are just too many moving parts. If three can keep a secret if two of them are dead, this is going to require a lot of bodies piling up. Our son was a little stumped by the criminals’ motives as well – market manipulation – so he was a little less than satisfied, but it’s got lots of intrigue and weirdness, plus Jason King wining and dining his way to the answers, so it was fun to watch even if it wouldn’t stand up to much critical scrutiny.