Jason King 1.13 – The Constance Missal

Super-hypnosis was a standard of action-adventure shows from the sixties and seventies, and we’ve certainly seen some silly examples from ITC already, but this one’s got an amusing little twist. The criminals who are using super-hypnosis, including Geraldine Moffat, to arrange the theft of a very old book run into a fun obstacle: the owner of the very old book is planning on running a con of his own to double-cross them. Naturally, Jason gets caught in the middle. Clive Revill plays the book’s shifty owner, Anne Sharp, Charles Lloyd-Pack, and Richard Hurndall have small roles. Our son enjoyed this one a lot; it’s a fanciful story with an outlandish premise and lots of complications.

Department S 1.6 – Six Days

And now back to 1968, and a show I’ve only seen a single episode of: Department S, one of the famous ITC adventure series from the day. This one was never purchased by an American network, and only aired in a few markets in first-run syndication. It’s never been released in Region 1, although weirdly the sequel series, Jason King, was. Some years back, before I got a multi-region player, Marie and I watched all of that. I said that if our son enjoys Department S, we’ll add it to our blog rotation, but I’m afraid we’re not off to a very strong start with him.

Department S is one of those special international investigation units common to the day. Joel Fabiani is the American leader of the team, Stewart Sullivan. Peter Wyngarde is, of course, the show’s star, the ideas man and novelist Jason King, and Rosemary Nicols is Annabelle Hurst, who can operate computers and break into locked rooms. They report to Interpol’s Sir Curtis Seretse, played by Dennis Alaba Peters, and none of this is made at all clear in “Six Days,” the episode chosen to start the program’s run in the UK’s ATV region. Our son was baffled; there were far too many characters in this, he wasn’t sure who the heroes were, probably because, as I read after we finished, this was actually the sixth one made. Maybe it was chosen to be shown first because it has a powerhouse guest cast more familiar to me than three of the stars, including Peter Bowles, Geraldine Moffat, the great Bernard Horsfall, and Neil Hallett.

At one point, Annabelle and Jason start talking about somebody called Mark Caine, as though he’s another member of the team. Now, Marie and I know, because we’ve seen the sequel show, that Mark Caine is the star of a successful series of adventure novels that Jason writes, and he approaches every problem as though it’s a challenge for Caine to solve. But that’s not mentioned at all in “Six Days.” We’re going to segue into the production order and start with episode one next time. Maybe they’ll introduce the characters. I guess the TV stations in April 1969 were waiting for their publicity department to do that for them or something.

The case this time involves an aircraft that everybody assumes went down with no survivors on July 11th suddenly showing up at Heathrow on the 17th, with none of the passengers or crew apparently aware they have been missing for six days. Someone’s gone to a great deal of trouble to get their hands on something or someone on the flight, and is happy to start killing their inside men. There’s lots of nice location filming at Heathrow and around London, but it’s not a particularly action-oriented story, and it left our kid behind. Hopefully the next – first – episode will smooth things over for him.

The New Avengers 1.2 – House of Cards

Look there, people didn’t just forget the difference between your and you’re when the internet started. They didn’t know in 1976, either.

“House of Cards” shows us a little of what Steed’s been up to since we last saw him. He’s raising horses and lives in a nice house in the country. He’s started dating. Some time prior to this episode, he had taken his girlfriend, whose name is Joanna, played by Geraldine Moffat, on a date to some event where she briefly met another important character in this story. She makes what is apparently the first of what will be only two visits to Steed’s home in this story, where she learns that Steed keeps framed portraits of Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, and Tara King on a mantle. And on the second visit, she tries to kill Steed because she’s a sleeper agent who’s been in the UK since 1956.

We had to give our kid a quick lesson in what sleeper agents are, because this week’s villain, played by Peter Jeffrey, activates a network of them after he was embarrassed to have our heroes snatch a defector out from under him. This happens in a terrific pre-credits sequence where Gambit dresses as a pop star – very ahead of his time, as he has corporate logos on his clothes! – and Steed sends a dozen screaming teenage girls, and Purdey, after him to cause a massive distraction. “Remember girls, you’re screaming for Britain,” he coaches. Our kid enjoyed this scene most of all and waited patiently for anything as amusing to happen after it. There were good fights and chases, sure, but he liked the opening best.

Also in the show this week: Annette Andre, who was Marty Hopkirk’s widow in one of the other shows we’re watching right now, finds herself a widow in this episode, because her husband is also a sleeper agent. He can’t bring himself to kill Steed, so he breaks cover to warn him and Peter Jeffrey has to kill him. Jeffrey’s character, Ivan Perov, is a really great villain, and I love how the writer, Brian Clemens, uses some very, very subtle foreshadowing to let us know that the agent’s failure is all part of his plan. There’s lots to love about this one.

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.13 – The League of Uncharitable Ladies

Our son caught a not-even-24-hours bug and went home from school yesterday. Today he’s fully recovered, but I had to take a day to stay with him before he can get back to class. So he’s rewatched both Guardians of the Galaxy movies – I didn’t write about Vol. 2 because I strangely found myself not really enjoying it the second time around – and then we popped back in time for another episode of Adam Adamant Lives!, which my boy really liked.

“The League of Uncharitable Ladies” is mildly famous for being one of the earliest professional jobs for Ridley Scott as a director. He’d worked at the BBC for a few years, and unsurprisingly the corporation managed to wipe several of his TV episodes, including the other Adamant installments that he did in season two.

There’s a massive hole in this one’s plot, which ended up bothering me for most of the hour. There have been a number of mysterious deaths of important diplomats, and nobody can find the connection. It’s that all of the ones who were married have wives who are members of the same club, devoted to peace.

This is perhaps a little predictably male of me, but just as the story subverts the possibilities of an all-woman crew bent on evil by having a man running things from behind the scenes (an Avengers episode from earlier that year had much the same problem), I was more interested in the few male guest stars. The only woman in the cast that I recognized was Geraldine Moffat, but I spotted both John Carson and Gerald Sim. Carson’s role as the master villain hiding in plain sight as a servant is obvious from space, but there is a neat twist about the motive that I didn’t see coming.

But is there anything here that predicts Ridley Scott’s later cinematic success? I wouldn’t say so, but some of the film work in the opening, which sees the camera following a man across St. James’s Park, is first-rate, and he did coax some very good performances from his actors. I really enjoyed the somewhat dark flirtation between Moffat’s character and Adam, which, in a first, doesn’t end with Adam getting conked on the head. In fact, he sees the betrayal coming and avoids it! Good, our hero is learning! He doesn’t get to slay the criminal this time, either. It’s always nice to break from the traditional tropes.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)