Department S 1.3 – A Cellar Full of Silence

It’s only a few seconds long, but I love this little shot of Joel Fabiani on location in London. He gets out of a taxi in front of a Marks & Spencer, and winds through a street market on his way to rough up a criminal kingpin played by Paul Whitsun-Jones in a studio. You get so used to seeing the heroes of these shows shot from a distance on location, but never quite far enough away that you can’t tell it’s an extra or a stuntman in a wig, that it’s just refreshing to see the real actors in the real city of 1968, not some rural village, not a backlot, and not sitting in a prop car with a rear-screen projection behind them.

Anyway, tonight’s story is again by Terry Nation, and it’s another good, solid mystery with a great hook. The bodies of four criminals are found dead in the cellar of a building being demolished. It looks like a gang hit, but why are they all dressed in silly costumes: a clown, a cowboy, a devil, and Frankenstein’s monster?

As always, Peter Wyngarde walks away with the story, and I wasn’t surprised that Annabelle doesn’t have all that much to do, because it’s Terry Nation. There’s a subplot involving a witness played by Denise Buckley who saw the four costumed criminals, but she’s being drugged and gaslighted into believing that she didn’t. I was actually reminded of an Avengers story that Brian Clemens wrote about a year later called “Pandora”. Even the way Linda Thorson played Tara in that episode is like the way Buckley acts in this one. Jason gets clobbered again, and suffers from a headache so painful that he doesn’t take any aspirin, because he doesn’t think he can stand the sound of swallowing them. My hero!

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.9 – The Trouble With Women

Our favorite eight year-old critic doesn’t have a lot of experience with poker games on TV, other than seeing Doug McClure win a few big hands in Barbary Coast, so I think it’s just window dressing to him, and he doesn’t know to watch for the “tells” in the actors’ faces as they communicate what’s going on, especially when the game is fixed. So he missed a big clue in Tony Williamson’s “The Trouble With Women” that leaves Jeff in debt to the club to the tune of £240. But that’s all right. He brings Marty along to the crooked game the next night.

Watching Marty spoil the bad guys’ hands was just one fun moment in a very entertaining story. It’s a play on the old detective story about the client who’s lying about her identity, with one obvious-in-retrospect twist and another that I really would never have seen coming. This week’s installment of Marty looking for help takes him to The Society of Spiritualists, which is a funny enough concept, but the obstacle that Marty finds when he gets there is completely hilarious – and spoiled by even a cast list, so don’t go looking – and revealed to the audience with one of the most perfect visual punch lines in any kind of program like this. All three of us were roaring with laughter.

Joining the fun this week are two actors we’ve seen in The Champions literally in the last month – Edward Brayshaw and Paul Maxwell. Denise Buckley, who plays the client, wasn’t in The Champions, but she was in The Avengers, The Prisoner, and Department S, so she’s familiar to fans of these shows.

The Champions 1.17 – A Case of Lemmings

Uh-oh. With every passing year, the “magic” of television grows a little more hollow. “For some reason,” our eight year-old critic told me, “that looks like an actor standing in front of a picture.” Well, no, ITC didn’t fly Stuart Damon to Italy for a couple of establishing shots. A few years later, they did send Peter Wyngarde on a holiday to Italy with a cameraman to get some genuine on-the-peninsula footage to drop into three or four different episodes of Jason King, but The Champions wasn’t so glamorous!

Anyway, it was a fun story tonight, with Edward Brayshaw as a Mafioso who’s somehow driving his rivals and his Interpol pests to kill themselves. One of them goes over a cliff in a red car. I honestly thought the gag was that ITC sent a white Jaguar over that cliff into the quarry and they reused the footage in seven different shows. No, there’s actually a red car and a white car. They wrecked two! Surely they could have afforded to send Damon to Italy!

The Avengers 7.20 – Homicide and Old Lace

A couple of oddball coincidences tonight: that’s the star of Adam Adamant Lives!, Gerald Harper, in color tonight as one of the guest stars in tonight’s episode of The Avengers. It also features the late Edward Brayshaw as one of the villains, and today (October 18) would have been his 85th birthday. Both of these fine actors, not to mention Donald Pickering, another notable name, had the misfortune of appearing in what’s by miles the worst episode of this show.

To recap, toward the end of 1967, John Bryce had been assigned to produce The Avengers, and under his watch, three episodes were at least started: “Invasion of the Earthmen”, “Invitation to a Killing,” which became “Have Guns – Will Haggle”, and a story written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks. It was called “The Great Great Britain Crime” and featured the return of an organization previously seen in season two’s “Intercrime.”

“The Great Great Britain Crime” was judged to be too far gone, too much of a lost cause, to save even with reshoots. But with deadlines looming, poor decisions were made, and, more than a year later, a good chunk of the episode was repurposed. “Homicide and Old Lace” is that most unfortunate beast: a clip show. There are fights and shootouts from five or six other color Avengers episodes, and the story is given an intrusive and very, very annoying framing sequence. Mother is recounting the adventure to two elderly aunts, who constantly interrupt and interject and ask questions and recap everything we’ve seen before.

It’s painful to watch. Even with only about twenty-five or so minutes of visuals from “Crime” to play with, the producers undermined even those by having Mother narrate over some the footage, obscuring the original dialogue. There’s inappropriate “Perils of Pauline” music, and even at least one comedy sound effect. At places, this doesn’t seem desperate so much as vindictive, like Brian Clemens decided to stick the knife in for Bryce daring to work on his show.

There’s a pace and look and, in particular, a color scheme that’s unique to what we can see of “The Great Great Britain Crime” and “Invitation to a Killing.” I’m fascinated by the road that the Associated British Corporation didn’t take. I wish these two episodes existed in full so we could compare them to the transmitted versions. I’m certain that “The Great Great Britain Crime” was lousy; nothing that was used here convinces me otherwise, but at the same time, I’m equally certain that there’s no way in the universe that the original production was anywhere as tedious and aggravating as “Homicide and Old Lace.” Sadly, the originals are believed to have been destroyed all those years ago.

And we’ll end on that sour note for now, and put The Avengers back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh. We’ll return to this series in November for the final six episodes of its original run, but stay tuned! There’s lots more to watch and talk about!