Well, this was an interesting production, just not an interesting story. Philip Broadley wrote the only two-part storyline for Jason King in either this series or Department S, and King is effectively a supporting character in it. There’s a lot of location filming in Paris, and proper location filming with a real crew and most of the guest cast, although not Peter Wyngarde. Maybe he was off doing the “home movies” guerilla filming in Venice for other episodes while Clinton Greyn, Lee Patterson, Anton Rodgers, Johanna Dunham, and Michael Gwynn were in Paris for this one. Madeline Smith gets the girlfriend part in both episodes, but she didn’t get to go to Paris either.
The strangest thing about it is that the lead character is an American PI named John Mallen, played by Clinton Greyn, and he’s overdubbed. In earlier posts about ITC productions, I’ve referenced ITC’s deep bench of American and Canadian actors who they’d employ, people like Paul Maxwell, Ed Bishop, David Bauer, or Stuart Damon, but instead of using one of them, they gave this part to Greyn, who was Welsh. Perhaps Greyn tried to do the accent of a private eye from Santa Monica and the producers decided later on that they’d erred, and so they called in Shane Rimmer to overdub him. Rimmer isn’t credited. He often wasn’t in his long career – he provides a voice in the Michael Caine movie Billion Dollar Brain without a credit as well, to give another example – but it kind of makes you wish they’d have just called Rimmer in to play the part in the first place. Even the guy who plays the client is overdubbed. That sounds like Bauer, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Anyway, the story itself is long, long, padded, and short on action. There’s a surprising twist near the end, when the story moves to a Paris-Rome express train and somebody’s going to come to a grisly and unexpected end, that I liked. But this is the sort of production where impatient men keep checking their handguns for no other reason to let the audience know they’re packing.
If you’re a regular reader of this dopey blog, you’ve certainly run across me saying that Peter Wyngarde shoulda played the Master at least once opposite Tom Baker. Usually when I say something like this, I’ve got a silly illustration to “prove” my point. See, here’s Wyngarde along with Anthony Ainley. He’s one of several familiar faces this time with teeny little parts, including Juliet Harmer and Neil McCarthy. I wonder whether Harmer is meant to be playing the same character she played in the first episode.
Michael Gwynn is also here, in a variation of the “photo of the recognizable actor” problem we talked about in the previous episode. There’s also a recognizable location. The country club where the villains all gather is the Edgwarebury Hotel, which shows up in all sorts of adventure programs from the day, most obviously as the escape-proof hotel in the Avengers episode “Wish You Were Here”.
Tony Williamson’s script is a complete cracker, one of the best so far. The villains are using ultrasonics to brainwash their victims and wipe memories. This is definitely the sort of larger-than-life wild criminal scheme I enjoy in this kind of show, with the added plus that these are very clever villains who are ahead of the heroes for most of the story. This comes to a head in a great scene where Stewart and Jason return to Paris having no idea that they’re even on a case, much less who put the whammy on them the day before.
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.