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 New Avengers 1.4 – The Midas Touch

Our son has entered that phase of a young boy’s life where skeletons are incredibly cool. It took me years to get out of that phase. Hopefully he won’t do anything so silly as buy a Tarot deck because there are skeletons on some of the cards. Anyway, the first few episodes of The New Avengers have a title sequence made from exciting scenes from the first few stories, including the bit shown above where a villain at a costume party, dressed in a skull mask and red robe, puts his infected hands in a bowl of punch. When he first saw that he shouted “Aw, that looks cool!” and while the reality of the situation did disappoint him a little – no, the Avengers did not get to fight a living skeleton this week – he did enjoy every tire-squealing moment of this story.

There are lots of reasons I’ve always liked this story. Earlier, I had said that one strike against The New Avengers for a lot of people is that it’s really tied to one time and place instead of in a nebulous, fantasy Avengerland. With that in mind, director Robert Fuest is back on the show after so many imaginatively-photographed stories in the original show’s last year, and he really nails this down to 1976 by staging an incredibly seventies car chase through many of the same streets and locations that every other British action show of the time used.

Almost inevitably, Purdey and Gambit end up in the iconic abandoned warehouses of the Southall Gas Works, where The Sweeney and Doctor Who had both filmed in the previous three years. I’ve always enjoyed how the script subverts the expectations of the car chase by having Purdey and Gambit discuss whether it was Walter or John Huston who directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre while bystanders drop crates of fruit on the windshield of their speeding car.

I was a little less keen on them casting Ronald Lacey as an allegedly Chinese character, “number one son” accent and all, especially when the character is called “Hong Kong Harry” and he might as well have been a Brit abroad instead of a silly stereotype. John Carson is also here, as a disgraced former agent who stumbles on a secret plot and, by the law of this sort of show, signs his own death warrant.

The Champions 1.15 – The Gilded Cage

Philip Broadley’s “The Gilded Cage” wasn’t one of our son’s favorite episodes of this show. There is very little action; it’s all psychological. Richard allows himself to get kidnapped to find out what this week’s criminal, played by John Carson, is up to. Unfortunately, he learns that he isn’t the hostage, a young woman played by Jennie Linden is, and if Richard won’t do as instructed, she’ll be killed. But in a very clever twist, she’s not nearly as helpless as either Richard or the criminal-of-the-week believe.

I enjoyed this a lot, but there was just a single superpowered punch thrown. Probably not an installment that our favorite seven year-old critic will want to revisit. That’s assuming he takes enough of a break from rewatching every Marvel movie for the umpteenth time to revisit anything else.

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.)