This is such a fun story! “The Phantom Train of Doom” might just be the best of all the Young Indy adventures. There are still some very good ones coming up, but this just runs rings around almost every other story that they made. It’s just a classic Indiana Jones adventure, with our hero getting caught up in escalating nonsense and a story that requires fast thinking, improvisation, and, of course, a blatant disregard for the laws of physics.
It follows the first part of the story quite closely, with all of the same cast. The “Old and the Bold” gang returns to the British lines and are immediately given a new assignment: to kidnap a German colonel. They agree to escort Indy and Remy back to the Belgian lines with a formal explanation for their absence and an apology from the British general. They just don’t tell Indy and Remy about their new mission. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, hilariously, and before long, Indy, Remy, and their prisoner are making their way across the veldt on foot.
The colonel is played by Tom Bell, who I remember seeing in Prime Suspect as DS Otley. I spent all of the nineties hoping that when Doctor Who ever did get resurrected, they’d cast Bell as the Master. There’s a parallel universe where he enjoyed some good scraps with Paul McGann’s Doctor, I’m sure.
This one’s absolutely delightful. We all chuckled our way through the whole thing. Indy and Remy have been transferred to Africa, but because neither of them can read train timetables all that well, they end up hopelessly lost, at least three hundred miles from their unit in Victoria, and bump into a “battalion” of in-the-way old codgers and geezers played by character actors like Freddie Jones and Ronald Fraser.
They call themselves the 25th Frontiersman Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and before he knows what’s hit him, the summers that Indy spent shoveling coal on a New Jersey train, and his fluent German, have him “volunteering” for an oddball mission to track down a mysterious German train with a massive cannon mounted on a flatbed car. The British general who’s asked for the group’s help promises to send a nice commendation to Indy and Remy’s commander, if they can ever get out of this mess…
This two-part story was first shown on ABC in the summer of 1993 under the title “The Phantom Train of Doom,” which is a silly and pulpy name, but this is a silly and fun story. Our son was in heaven. It’s full of explosions and secret bases and fights, and Indy doesn’t smooch even one silly girl. The first “part” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. It’s really two separate stories with most of the same cast, including Julian Firth in his other 1916 role, as a British military intelligence officer who’s grateful for this company of the “Old and the Bold” to pull them out of the fire.
This morning, I enjoyed explaining to our son that The Avengers features quite a few very eccentric old fellows with very odd hobbies. I also enjoyed explaining what the word eccentric meant; he’d never heard it before. The Avengers is set in a world where dozens of old military men and industrialists trapped in the memory of a glorious past of Empire have retired with buckets of money to indulge their peculiar whims. Often, they’re either exploited or killed by the villains-of-the-week, who frequently use the cover of the eccentrics’ hobby to hide in plain sight.
So this week, we meet Sir Horace Winslip, the first of the eccentric old oddballs in the film series. He’s played by Ronald Fraser and he’s obsessed with old railway lines and hates motor cars. He lives in a railway-themed house with an imitation dining car with sound effects and scrolling scenery, and has his own private mini-train, which our son adored almost as much as Patrick Macnee, who got to ride it. He’s been manipulated by the baddies into funding a jamming system. But Sir Horace thinks its meant to jam the engines of automobiles, when it’s actually jamming early-warning radar installations, just like in “The Deadly Missiles,” an episode of The Bionic Woman that we watched last month.
This episode was written by Malcolm Hulke and it features Wanda Ventham in a small role. It memorably climaxes with Mrs. Peel tied to the lines of the miniature railway with old-fashioned player piano music like an old “Perils of Pauline” chapter. This really did frighten our son a little, but the very fun fight between Steed and a couple of hoodlums on the runaway train kept him riveted. I told him that they used to have a mini-train like that at Zoo Atlanta that I enjoyed riding. Sadly, they replaced it with a boring old full-size train ten or more years ago.