Another short entry: Tony Williamson’s “When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?” requires a lot of “TV logic” when it comes to hypnosis, fingerprints, masks, people alerting the heroes of the story to keep the narrative running for fifty full minutes instead of phoning Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large and wrapping things up much more quickly. But it’s incredibly funny and had us all laughing out loud, so why complain? Keith Barron has a small role as one of the villains; always nice to see him.
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He didn’t complain aloud, but our son really didn’t enjoy tonight’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) all that much. Guest star George Sewell plays an escaped con who is unable to take revenge on Marty, the man who put him away, so he targets his widow. The criminal’s just too mean and violent, and Jean, while occasionally possessed of quick wits, is one of the least resourceful regular characters we’ve seen on any TV series that we’ve watched together. She’s simultaneously being romanced by an old friend who has taken her in with a lie about being a widower himself. I wouldn’t say that it’s always nice to see Annette Andre take center stage when Donald James’s story makes her a double victim.
On the other hand, Kenneth Cope is so entertaining to watch that his selfish jealousy over Jean thinking about moving on is really amusing. And it’s nice to see Jeff win a fight. Unfortunately, the fight he wins is with a supporting character. Once George Sewell’s brute gets his paws on Jeff, he doesn’t last very long.
A powerhouse trio of fine actors playing villains in tonight’s episode. That’s Patrick Newell, Neil McCarthy, and Michael Gwynn, and the story keeps us delightfully in the dark for almost the whole of the episode wondering what on earth they’re up to. It really was a joy watching this story unfold, as a criminal acquaintance of theirs tries to con Jean into believing that he is the reincarnation of Marty for some reason or other. Unfortunately, the question of why in the world did he go to all that trouble – I mean, an enormous amount of trouble – to get such a simple question answered is a plot hole so mammoth that Jean and Jeff actually wonder aloud about it at the end of the show, and they can’t find a satisfactory answer.
Also, Jeff wins a fight for once. He almost wins two!
Our son wondered about Marty’s powers, noting that in ghost stories that he’s read, ghosts typically do have the power to possess people, which makes the scam sound almost plausible. But Marty doesn’t actually have that power, probably because it would be far too easy a crutch for a show like this. He was also curious about Michael Gwynn’s character being so polite by gently touching his hat with greetings and goodbyes. He asked us to pause the show so we could talk about the lost art of men’s hats and the body language that came with wearing them. He’ll probably pay more attention when we watch the next episode of Brisco County Jr. in a couple of nights, or how Steed greets people when The New Avengers returns to our lineup next month.
Our son enjoyed tonight’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) much more than the previous one, but it still left him cold for a good while. The problem is that Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large jails Jeff on suspicion of heisting half a million pounds of very used notes that were en route to be destroyed in a furnace. Donald James’s script leaves it open as to whether Jeff knows a lot more than he’s saying… and he’s saying nothing, not to Marty, and not even to his attorney, played by Sue Lloyd.
Once everything comes out in the open, our favorite eight year-old critic came around and started liking this one a lot more. He even noted an similarity between this story and the Hardy Boys episode “The Flickering Torch Mystery,” which we watched in the spring. He likes it when the police foil the bad guys’ plans to escape via airplane, apparently!
We resumed Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) tonight after a few weeks on the shelf, but unfortunately Tony Williamson’s “Never Trust a Ghost” isn’t one of the strongest stories. Our son just flat out said it was the worst episode we’ve watched, probably because he doesn’t like seeing anybody not able to be believed. Marty stumbles on a killing and quickly gets Randall involved in some criminal scheme being played out by a trio of baddies – Peter Vaughan, Caroline Blakiston, and Philip Madoc – but Jeff can never get to the scenes of the crimes in time to actually see what Marty has seen. This doesn’t do him any good when the police get involved.
I think I wasn’t pleased because the bad guys act really “TV bad,” and time their scheme to the television hour. And for otherwise competent baddies, they seem to have overlooked that even the least competent policemen on Earth would notice that the room that they plan to leave for the cops will have one fresh corpse and two that had been shot about three days before. It’s always nice to see Philip Madoc, but this isn’t Williamson’s best script.
We recently watched “Gnaws,” where Dennis Spooner came on board with a script for Brian Clemens’ The New Avengers that everybody who saw it as a kid remembers more than any other episode. This was perhaps karmic retribution for “Autokill” eight years earlier, when Clemens came on board Spooner’s show with a script that pulled the rug out from every other installment. It’s the one where Richard and Craig have a brawl and the eyes of every child watching popped out of their heads.
We watched this episode earlier in the evening, since our son had a friend coming by after dinner. Marie was taking a nap and I didn’t want to wake her until we’d finished. So the kid gave her a breathless recap as she blinked the sleep away. “Richard got hypnotized into fighting Craig! It was AMAZING! They were knocking each other all over the place!” It’s quite a fight, that’s true. They get all kinds of battered and bruised like you just didn’t see on television in the late sixties. Our son described it this way: “Sharron held Richard down and then Craig gave him a sandwich. A KNUCKLE SANDWICH!” I vividly remember the shots of Richard’s mouth full of blood from when I first saw this one in 1987 because it’s so shocking.
So “Autokill” really is a memorable experience and overall a fine episode with which to end a show. Paul Eddington plays one of the villains, and he wouldn’t have been out of place in an Avengers. He’s fussy, fastidious, and obsessed with cleanliness. There’s almost a preview of the bloodshed to come when Craig smacks the villain and draws blood and the poor wretch almost passes out from fear that he’ll bleed on his uniform.
Sadly, that was it for The Champions. Like most ITC series, the program was made in the hopes of sales to international television markets, especially an American network sale. NBC picked up the series and gave ten of the installments a run in the summer of 1968. Remember last year when I talked about the roaring success of Laugh-In? Rather than risk overexposure for their surprise new hit, NBC rested it for the summer and ran The Champions in its place.
Unfortunately, The Champions sank without trace fifty-one summers ago, and NBC never bothered to run the other twenty episodes. I once read that this ended up hurting the show’s ability to find independent stations to pick it up. Local channels had purchased a few programs from ITC’s catalog, most notably The Saint, which was shown in enough markets to eventually make NBC interested in buying the two color seasons. But The Champions was tainted by its network failure and not often seen in American syndication. I’m really glad that I picked up Network’s DVD release. It’s got a great documentary about the show that reunites the three stars that I’m going to watch again soon.
One last stupid little anecdote about this episode. The first agent who gets brainwashed and drugged into becoming a killer leaves behind a wife who freaks out and cries while Sharron tries to ask her about the morning he vanished. I recognized her as someone I’d seen freaking out and crying in something else really recently, but couldn’t remember what. I didn’t recognize the name, Rachel Herbert. IMDB set me straight. The other morning, when I popped in the first episode of Lord Peter Wimsey to get a picture of the late Glyn Houston, I rewatched the scene where Herbert, playing Lady Mary, finds her brother standing over her dead fiance and freaks out, crying “Oh God, Gerald, you’ve killed him!” See, I knew I’d seen that freaked out, crying face recently.
This was a very satisfying little hour written by Dennis Spooner that sees our heroes globetrotting from Burma to Belgium to a Central African Nosuchlandia on the trail of several crates of rifles that are being sold to finance a civil war. Along for the ride, a mob of regular ITC guest stars that you see in all these shows: Anthony Chinn, William Franklyn, David Lodge, Paul Stassino. There are even giraffes in the jungle, thanks to the magic of rear-screen projection. It’s a really satisfying action hour where all our heroes get a spotlight superpower moment and a few little smiles of comedy.
“The Final Countdown” is a good story with a terrific trio of villains – Alan McNaughtan’s in charge, with Norman Jones and Derek Newark as his thugs – but the main event is the ITC White Jaguar going over a cliff for the second of at least four times that we’ll see at this blog.
“I am NOT going to buy a white Jaguar when I grow up,” our son sagely observed, “because it’ll just go over a cliff and crash!”