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The Champions 1.26 – Full Circle

I was thinking that tonight’s episode of The Champions, written by Donald James, might have been too complicated for our son, but he breezed right along with it and quietly said “This is really exciting!” as Craig executes a prison break. At its core, the story is a mystery: who is paying a man who broke into an embassy in London to photograph plans, and what did he do with the film. The ambassador believes the British government is behind the theft and has imprisoned their own agent, so while Craig and Richard are planning to break him out, the ambassador engages an underworld fixer and his gun-toting moll, played by Gabrielle Drake, to bring the convict to him.

The most surprising moment of the story comes when Richard loses a fight. Even superhumans have an occasional off day, but in Richard’s defense, there were three of them, they were huge, they caught him by surprise, and he did kayo two of the thugs before losing consciousness.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.12 – All Work and No Pay

Ah, well, we had to hit an episode that the grownups didn’t enjoy eventually. No series bats a thousand. At least Donald James’ “All Work and No Pay” starts out incredibly entertaining, with guest villains Dudley Foster and Alfred Burke playing very well-dressed brothers who are up to something. For a good chunk of the story, it was really entertaining trying to figure out what in the world they’re actually doing, and why they’ve targeted Jean with a fake poltergeist. But the truth isn’t so much disappointing as it is utterly nonsensical, and not even Adrienne Corri, playing an actress friend of Jeff’s who ends up in the villains’ clutches, can really save this one.

But on the other hand, our favorite eight year-old critic had a very different experience. There is one moment about half an hour in where the story seems to take a very uncharacteristically gruesome turn, and he didn’t like that at all. But the rest of the episode had him on the edge of his seat and smiling. He loved the villains’ fake poltergeists, even while his fuddy-duddy parents were squinting and asking “…how?” And when Marty saves the day by exercising a little previously unseen control over the output of power plants, he was in heaven. The closing revelation that things hadn’t ended so gruesomely earlier had him guffawing, because Adrienne Corri gets to ride home wearing nothing but a newspaper. That’s not sexy to an eight year-old, that’s just funny.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.4 – A Sentimental Journey

This afternoon’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), written by Donald James, is another example of the more hard-boiled route the program might have taken in its earliest days before they landed on a sillier formula. Tracey Crisp plays a courier / hostage between two rival criminal gangs, one in London and the other in Glasgow, and Jeff has to escort her back to England and then take a receipt back to the mob boss in Scotland. You know that at least one double-cross is coming, but when? Poor Jeff gets the absolute daylights thrashed out of him three times in this adventure. The grown-up stuff kept our son entertained, but his favorite part by far was Marty using his supernatural powers at a small public works site and whipping up a sandstorm.

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The Champions 1.23 – The Night People

I swear it feels like Donald James wrote everything that we’ve watched for the last month! “The Night People” isn’t one of the best episodes of The Champions. In its favor, there’s some great location filming around the iconic Knebworth House, and Stuart Damon chose to play Craig as being an incredibly bad mood, short-tempered, worried about the missing Sharron, and snidely patronizing to everybody, including his friends and guest star Adrienne Corri, who plays a white witch in Cornwall. Thirty episodes of that would have been twenty-nine too many, but everybody’s due a bad day once in a while.

On the other hand, it feels too much like the far superior “Shadow of the Panther” from earlier in the season. It starts as a Sharron-centered adventure involving some fake magic hocus-pocus to cover up a more mundane crime, and the boys show up when Sharron goes missing. The problem is that Sharron was in command of the situation in “Panther,” and while she’s staying put and quietly learning about the situation while allowing herself to be imprisoned by guest star Terence Alexander, she is really sidelined and left out of all the physical stuff again. Watched after last night’s New Avengers, in which Purdey isn’t sidelined by anybody, it feels incredibly retrograde.

We’ll take a short break from The Champions to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back for the final seven episodes in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.8 – It’s Supposed to be Thicker Than Water

Earlier this month, I had a little giggle over a red Renault going over a cliff in an episode of The Champions and wondered when we’d see the white Jaguar doing its famous tumble. Well, the footage, which was originally shot in 1965 for The Baron, made its way into this series with this episode. John Hallam is the unfortunate driver this time out.

I had wondered how many more times we’d run into this footage over the course of this blog, and the answer seems to be at least three more. The good people at Randall and Hopkirk (Declassified) have a page devoted to the four Jags used in the footage as well as the Renault. I made sure our son knows that anybody getting into a white Jag by himself in one of these shows is asking for trouble. Let’s see whether he remembers.

I have to say that this episode, written by Donald James, doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its thunderously good pre-credits sequence. A very old man in a horse-drawn carriage commissions Jeff to take an envelope to his nephew for a much-needed fee of £50 (that’s like $1100 today). Jeff accepts, and then the guy drops the surprise: his nephew is an escaped convict who jumped the wall six weeks previously.

So I was a little disappointed that Jeff finds the nephew almost instantly, and this quickly turns into the second “somebody’s killing all the relatives” inheritance story in three weeks. But I liked this more than “Who Killed Cock Robin?,” in part because Liz Fraser plays the unlikely suspect – slash – survivor who latches onto our hero, and she’s delightful. She plays the assistant to a stage magician, which is convenient when the plot makes its way to the usual scene of Jeff getting in trouble and Marty needing to get help. Marty just has to wait until she gets put into a hypnotic trance!

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The Champions 1.20 – The Silent Enemy

Here’s the submarine set again, making its third appearance in The Champions. This time it’s another Donald James script that has an absolutely smashing opening: a submarine, not heard from for days, turns up with the entire crew dead. Paul Maxwell, an ITC regular who had also done a fair amount of voiceover work for Gerry Anderson, plays the captain of the replacement crew. I’d say the story doesn’t quite live up to the pre-credits sequence, but any hour that introduces a previously uncharted island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, discovered by agents of Nosuchlandia and used by their evil scientists for chemical experiments can’t be all bad.

Craig gets to ladle out the violence at the end of the story and throws two guards all over the place, and there’s a great bit where one of the enemy agents, fighting for the one available gas mask, throws the main evil scientist into a room filled with gas and locks him in it. That ruthless dude had the makings of a great recurring villain, if these old shows ever went in for that sort of thing so late in the run.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.5 – You Can Always Find a Fall Guy

Deeply weird coincidence alert: I broke disk 1 of this set the other night, and so we started the second disk tonight. That means that this morning and this evening we happened to watch two separate programs that were filmed on the grounds of Grim’s Dyke Hotel. It appears in several episodes of The Champions, including “The Mission,” and was also the villain’s stately manor in the Avengers episode “Game.” I kept thinking to myself “Man, this big house looks familiar.” Well, that’s because you just saw it ten hours ago, Holmes.

I deliberately don’t know a great deal about Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but I’ve read many times that Jeff Randall gets clobbered more than your average TV hero. In Donald James’s “You Can Always Find a Fall Guy,” he gets one heck of a beatdown, not a simple club on the back of the head like Simon Templar often received. Amusingly, Jeremy Young plays a character who owns the houseboat where Randall gets the daylights thrashed out of him, but he’s an effete dandy who cowers against the wall when the real bad guy storms in to do the business. Since we’ve seen Young cast as a villain and give a good account of himself in so many other programs, usually with a sword in hand, I found that funny.

Joining Young this week are several other familiar faces, including Patrick Barr, Juliet Harmer, Garfield Morgan, and Tony Steedman. None of these actors took me out of the experience nearly as much as a throwaway sign on a grocery store window. The episode is packed with lovely location filming on the streets of London, and in one scene, finished back in the studio with rear-screen projection, Mike Pratt and Garfield Morgan are having a conversation in a parked car. There’s a sticker on the grocers’ window for Findus. I don’t know that Findus products were ever sold in North America; I only know them as the purveyors of fish fingers with a crumb-crisp coating. Takes me right out of the action when I’m replaying Orson Welles commercials in my head. At least I didn’t subject my family to my poor Welles impression.

It’s a great story with some really amusing ghost business. Our son really enjoyed the scene where Marty puts the frighteners on a pair of guard dogs, but I most loved the moment where Marty visits several hospitals in London looking for just the right surgical situation. I think this would be a fine little show even if one of the detectives wasn’t a ghost, but since he is, the writers are finding a lot of humor in the situation.

Numbering note: Not that I imagine anybody’s all that bothered, but we’re watching The Champions in broadcast order and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in production order because I have no idea what The Champions’ production order is, and there’s a downright terrific R&H site that you should visit and bookmark that confirms the Network DVDs have the episodes in the sequence that they were made.

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The Champions 1.19 – The Mission

Two of our heroes are sporting remarkable makeup in this morning’s episode of The Champions. Written by Donald James, “The Mission” has a former Nazi doctor working as part of an underground network to provide criminals new identities through plastic surgery. Patricia Haines and Anthony Bate are the villains, and Craig and Sharron get to pose as a New York gangster and his dame. Harry Towb has a small role as well. He played “the guy who gets killed by the villains first thing” at least two other times I can remember. If you needed somebody to get shot or stabbed or eaten by an inflatable chair before the opening credits in the sixties and seventies, Towb was your man.

It’s called “The Mission” because the criminals run a charitable mission for drunks and down-and-outs in order to keep a supply of spare parts going. While Craig and Sharron get to dress nicely and pretend like they’ve got two million bucks in syndicate money to spend, Richard infiltrates the other end of the chain and befriends an Irish alcoholic. At the end of the episode, the trio gift their boss a bottle of the Irishman’s special 180 proof blend, which Tremayne spits out after one sip, much to our son’s delight. He enjoyed the episode much more than the previous one, with the closing gag providing a good laugh at the end, even if he wasn’t entirely certain why Tremayne spit out his drink.

“It’s because that was basically moonshine,” Marie said.

“Ahhhh,” our son replied.

“Do you know what moonshine is?” I asked.

“Well, all I know is that it’s some kind of beer,” he said.

My dad had a source for “white whiskey” once. I think I probably did a spit take like Tremayne when I had a sip, too.

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