Well, I certainly wish that I enjoyed this one more than I did, because it guest stars the great Roger Delgado, but I found myself nodding off about halfway through it. The story’s told in flashback from Jason’s jail cell, so there’s quite a lot of Delgado in the episode, it’s just not a very good one. I think it was likely made at some point between Delgado’s Doctor Who appearances in “The Daemons” and “The Sea Devils.” The script is by Donald James, and happily, the kid enjoyed it more than I did. Last time, Marie suggested that he enjoys it more when Jason King is getting into fights in warehouses than when he’s being cerebral and deducing weird crimes, and this one begins with an after-hours brawl in a jewelry store, so he was paying attention from the start.
The most interesting part of the story is how the girlfriend-of-the-week, played by Anna Gaël, makes sure that she gets Jason’s attention. She publishes a fake Mark Caine novel called The Stones of Venice that contains all the details of her twin sister’s recent kidnapping, and hires a pretty salesgirl played by Imogen Hassell to stock a sales kiosk with the phony books, making sure that our hero is outraged enough to get to the bottom of the crime depicted in the book and find out who’s getting crooked royalties off his name.
So how’d she churn out a novel that quickly? Simple, because this was the seventies, she just fed a bunch of his other books into a computer, which turned them into punch cards. She added her sister’s name and fed the punch cards into another computer that spat out an ersatz King novel, and sent it to a printer who could do it up – in English and Italian – in the standard King orange trade dress. There was a lot of that plot going around back in the day – The Avengers met a computer that churned out romance novels around that time, although The Avengers being The Avengers, theirs looked like a piano – but I’m amused by the in-universe ramifications. In Jason King’s world, original copies of the quickly-suppressed The Stones of Venice, which had only been sold in a single airport for a couple of weeks, must be his fans’ Holy Grail!
I’d like to think we do a good job teaching our son to be quiet and respectful when we watch TV together, and say as little as possible, but one of this episode’s first scenes features our heroes meeting up with a man from the ministry, and I thought that was probably Geoffrey Bayldon. “I think that’s the man who played Catweazle,” I said, and, after a beat, he replied “It IS Catweazle! I recognize his voice!” And he was so pleased that he just kept talking and we had to go back and watch the scene again.
Philip Levene’s “Escape in Time” has another great collection of familiar faces. The great Peter Bowles is the main villain, and his accomplices include Judy Parfitt, who’s known to contemporary audiences as Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife, and known to classic TV fans as appearing in darn near everything else, Imogen Hassall, who died at the stupidly young age of 38, and Nicholas Smith. I said that I didn’t know who that guy was, but he was definitely in an episode of Spyder’s Web. I was right, but he’s probably best known for seventy-some episodes of Are You Being Served?.
I think this is an episode more about the iconography than the story, which is about a supposed time corridor that is said to allow criminals on the run to escape into one of four previous time zones. The script is kind of humdrum, especially once the audience figures that the corridor’s a fraud, but it just looks so good! The corridor effect is a really great bit of trick photography, Peter Bowles gets to have fun as the cruel Elizabethan-period ancestor of his main character, and there’s a great scene where Mrs. Peel, carrying a stuffed crocodile, is menaced by a guy on a motorcycle wearing fox hunting gear. I think comic book writer Grant Morrison saw this episode as a child and had nightmares about it for years. His series The Invisibles definitely has a little “Escape in Time” in its DNA.
Our son enjoyed it, too. Once we got the confusion of what they were after sorted, I thought that he was finding that the story was incredibly easy to follow, with the escape route revisited twice and the enemy agents very easy to differentiate. On the other hand, he somehow didn’t understand that the escape route is a big hoax, and thought that Steed was actually traveling through time in the climax, rather than just walking from one set-dressed room to the next!