Department S 1.27 – The Bones of Byrom Blain

That problem of using a recognizable actor for a “dead before the credits” moment rears its head again. We see this a lot in shows from the period, including, just last month, the Department S story “Dead Men Die Twice”. This time, it’s the great character actor John Barron, who gets skeletonized, somehow, in the back seat of a Rolls Royce.

I have to say that it’s a remarkably good hook before the credits, but even the great Tony Williamson can’t make this one work. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make the police believe that the bones are indeed that of the victim, but even in 1969, the investigators surely would not buy this, and even if they did, they’d keep digging remorselessly to find out how and where the mysterious super-weapon that killed them was introduced. The show tries using the logic that this is somehow going to make less of a ruckus than kidnapping their targets without leaving a skeleton behind. The main villain is played by John Carson, and he’s pretty awesome, at least.

The kid really enjoyed this one – the skeletons certainly helped, because he’s nine, and, like nine year-olds, thinks skeletons are cool – and I had one great big laugh. Jason apparently spends all day getting out of the room where the bad guys locked him. Annabelle asks how he did it and he tells her to read the next Mark Caine book to find out. That feels a little bit like this episode’s writer just not wanting to bother any longer, but it is nevertheless in character.

There was one other interesting moment. Briefly, Stewart flies to New York to follow up a lead, and it occurred to me that for a globetrotting adventure, this show never really went to the United States. To be fair, this isn’t something that ITC had the resources to do with a great deal of credibility – their color library film of New York City for the establishing shot is, shall we say, not very contemporary – but it might have helped them sell the show to an American network if they could boast a couple of reasonably big-name American guest stars. ITC didn’t even need to cast from their bench of Canadian or American actors (Damon, Maxwell, Healy, Bishop, Rimmer, etc.) to play the diplomat; the character doesn’t even have any lines.

The Avengers 4.24 – A Sense of History

“Some of that was kind of hard to understand,” our son told us. I agreed; British colleges and universities are pretty strange for us, too! I still can’t get over the downright palatial residence of fourth-year students in places like this. Patrick Mower’s character, who’s a really nasty piece of work, lives in a space that would have fit six or eight of us from my time at dear old Reed Hall.

I took a break from reading 2000 AD when I went to college; at least one of the students at St. Bode’s has kept up his subscription to the venerable Lion. Mrs. Peel’s checking out the latest adventure for Robot Archie in the issue in the lecture room. Archie was the spiritual antecedent for the Vision and Jocasta in those other, lesser Avengers.

But even if our son had been more familiar with the ins and outs of colleges like this, I think the central thesis of this adventure might have been a little over his head. I like the way that Martin Woodhouse’s script is very subtle about the issue between one set of economists who envision a future of “Europia” and the anonymous author of a paper called Economics and a Sense of History. Steed immediately sees something in the paper that brings the word “jackboots” to mind, and many of the students at St. Bode’s, including Mower and future star Jacqueline Pearce, are thugs-in-training. They’re downright awful to one of their lecturers, played by John Barron, who contends that no one person can alter the inevitable course of history.

The show was much more his speed when the students’ Rag Week festivities got violent. At one point, Steed and Nigel Stock’s character have to take refuge under a caravan in the woods while masked ruffians fire arrows at them. One flaming arrow pierces Steed’s bowler hat; that was the high point of the episode for him!