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The Champions 1.24 – Project Zero

Tonight, we rejoined The Champions for a run of seven last episodes of this incredibly entertaining show. “Project Zero” was written by Tony Williamson and it features a good, meaty part for Peter Copley as one of several scientists who’s been conned into thinking the top-secret research establishment in Scotland where they’re working is a government project, when it’s actually, of course, run by this week’s diabolical masterminds. And I use that term deliberately: this is a very Avengers scenario, right down to the nearby village, which is not quite abandoned, but overseen by one “everything is normal” fellow who’s there to pull the “gasp! you haven’t escaped at all!” routine. That fellow’s played by Nicholas Smith, and Jill Curzon also has a small role.

This is an incredibly good Sharron episode which more than makes up for a couple of the recent disappointments where the character was sidelined badly. It’s so satisfying on that front that I really should have used a picture of Alexandra Bastedo this time, except that there’s this scene with Craig and Richard which is completely amazing. Richard’s cover is blown and the bad guy has clamped a bomb around his neck. The scene where they free him is one of the most tense things I think our son’s ever seen. His eyes were wide and he didn’t dare breathe until it was over. They held the tension for so long that he about turned blue. If our son comes back to this blog to relive old memories once he’s grown up, he’ll certainly remember this scene.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.10 – Whoever Heard of a Ghost Dying?

I’m afraid I was working on another project and had to rush, so I watched tonight’s episode out of the corner of my eye. What I saw was completely wonderful. This is a splendid and very funny adventure where Marty gets targeted by a clairvoyant criminal played by Charles Lloyd Pack. He needs to make sure that no ghosts get in his way, so he and his associate, Alexandra Bastedo under a very unfortunate hairdo, pick up Marty’s widow as a client in order to exorcise Marty! There are some good fights and great surprises, and it features Ivor Dean as a police inspector who is really sick of Jeff.

In our son’s favorite scene, Jeff consults a doctor in Harley Street to discuss all of his ailing friend’s symptoms. The quack deduces that Jeff’s friend must be pregnant, and our kid howled with laughter. This is definitely one to come back to another day!

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.9 – The Trouble With Women

Our favorite eight year-old critic doesn’t have a lot of experience with poker games on TV, other than seeing Doug McClure win a few big hands in Barbary Coast, so I think it’s just window dressing to him, and he doesn’t know to watch for the “tells” in the actors’ faces as they communicate what’s going on, especially when the game is fixed. So he missed a big clue in Tony Williamson’s “The Trouble With Women” that leaves Jeff in debt to the club to the tune of £240. But that’s all right. He brings Marty along to the crooked game the next night.

Watching Marty spoil the bad guys’ hands was just one fun moment in a very entertaining story. It’s a play on the old detective story about the client who’s lying about her identity, with one obvious-in-retrospect twist and another that I really would never have seen coming. This week’s installment of Marty looking for help takes him to The Society of Spiritualists, which is a funny enough concept, but the obstacle that Marty finds when he gets there is completely hilarious – and spoiled by even a cast list, so don’t go looking – and revealed to the audience with one of the most perfect visual punch lines in any kind of program like this. All three of us were roaring with laughter.

Joining the fun this week are two actors we’ve seen in The Champions literally in the last month – Edward Brayshaw and Paul Maxwell. Denise Buckley, who plays the client, wasn’t in The Champions, but she was in The Avengers, The Prisoner, and Department S, so she’s familiar to fans of these shows.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.6 – Who Killed Cock Robin?

I’m always impressed by viewers and fans who can spot reused props and costumes and locations. Just last night, I got a great laugh when Lex Lamb pointed out on Twitter that a key piece of the Swine Trek set from The Muppet Show‘s “Pigs in Space” started life as part of the mad scientist’s control room in the Doctor Who adventure “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” I will never be that good with the details, but tonight I could point out that the big country house in this evening’s Randall and Hopkirk adventure doubled as the hotel in the Avengers story “Wish You Were Here,” which was filmed the same summer.

Tonight’s story was written by Tony Williamson, and Cyril Luckham plays a lawyer who hires Randall to keep several dozen birds alive, because some greedy relatives won’t inherit anything until the last bird is dead. Jane Merrow plays one of the relatives; she had auditioned for the role of Tara King in The Avengers, and so in another world, it would have been her stuck in that hotel in “Wish You Were Here” instead of Linda Thorson.

I figured there’d be a story where Marty goes for help by finding somebody playing with a Ouija board, and this was it. That scene’s pretty funny, but the one that we loved the most had Marty saving the day. One of the greedy relatives decides to pour gas all over the aviary and kill all the birds in a fire. But it’s awfully hard for a match to stay lit when there’s a ghost standing next to you! Honestly, this was the least of the three episodes that we’ve watched so far, but it was still very entertaining.

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The Champions 1.17 – A Case of Lemmings

Uh-oh. With every passing year, the “magic” of television grows a little more hollow. “For some reason,” our eight year-old critic told me, “that looks like an actor standing in front of a picture.” Well, no, ITC didn’t fly Stuart Damon to Italy for a couple of establishing shots. A few years later, they did send Peter Wyngarde on a holiday to Italy with a cameraman to get some genuine on-the-peninsula footage to drop into three or four different episodes of Jason King, but The Champions wasn’t so glamorous!

Anyway, it was a fun story tonight, with Edward Brayshaw as a Mafioso who’s somehow driving his rivals and his Interpol pests to kill themselves. One of them goes over a cliff in a red car. I honestly thought the gag was that ITC sent a white Jaguar over that cliff into the quarry and they reused the footage in seven different shows. No, there’s actually a red car and a white car. They wrecked two! Surely they could have afforded to send Damon to Italy!

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The Champions 1.16 – Shadow of the Panther

I can’t swear that there’s any real evidence that adventure shows from the period did voodoo episodes with any regularity, but I guess there’s enough of a cultural memory, forged by Live and Let Die and by Marvel Comics, that it’s not at all surprising that there’s a Champions episode set in Haiti dealing with voodoo. There was also an episode of The Saint called “Sibao” made a few years earlier. So the plot this time is about voodoo being used as a cover for hypnotizing the rich and powerful and turning them into secret assassins via subliminals and ultrasonics.

Donald Sutherland fails to fool anybody as an innocent journalist this week. Of course he’s the master villain. There are actually two things about Tony Williamson’s story that annoyed me. First is the stereotyping and second is the way the script is built around making the audience worry that some nefarious voodoo plot has ensnared Sutherland, when the character had absolutely no reason to even get close to Sharron in the first place, let alone give her the big clue that something is wrong by abruptly acting hypnotized and giving her something to investigate.

On the other hand, this is an awesome Sharron episode. She was only in the previous story for one scene, but she leads this investigation, and while the focus pulls to Craig and Richard for a while, the only real question is whether the show’s going to stay true to its promise to treat all three superhumans as equals or if it’s going to act like a dumb sixties show in the end and make the woman helpless. It picks the right answer.

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The Champions 1.11 – The Dark Island

Tonight, we returned The Champions to the rotation for another several weeks. Our son was very happy about this. It’s among his favorite shows, and while I have a couple of short breaks planned, we’ll be watching this into June. This evening’s installment was written by Tony Williamson, and the guest villain is played by Vladek Sheybal. He’s operating from a small Pacific island and is in league with the Chinese military to launch a strike against the United States’ ballistic early warning system. You can tell that’s that’s the plan, because the underground base has all these posters of Chairman Mao on the walls, along with text that is written in Chinese, but the Big Board in the main room is conveniently written in English so we can tell what they’re up to.

Also in the cast this week, blink and you’ll miss him, but Anthony Ainley has a very tiny and uncredited role as one of two lookouts from a US Navy landing party. After the episode, I started it again to get another look at him and pointed him out to our son, who said “Wow, the Master in The Champions?” I told him “Why not, we’ve already seen the Rani in The Champions.” He said “Huh?” and I reminded him of Kate O’Mara’s character in a previous episode. “Yeah, I remember her,” he replied, “but who is the Rani?” So we prodded and poked and prompted until he said “Oh, her!” Good thing we got that cleared up, since we’ll see the Rani again in a little over a week.

Funny. There’s an anecdote that said that Steven Moffat was once asked whether he’d ever bring back the Rani, and he was against it, because nobody remembered her.

Anyway, before he went off and proved my point that this kid has no memory for faces, he underlined a different point, that he sometimes remembers sets and the like. Early in the episode, Richard is in a plane getting ready to parachute onto the island. We see stock footage of an airplane, and then a shot of two airmen in the cockpit. Our son said “Hey, that looks familiar,” and I pointed out that it might very well have been the same cockpit set that was used in the episode “Reply Box No. 666.” Then he clarified that it wasn’t the set that he remembered, but the stock footage. Well, I have no idea whether he’s ever seen that before.

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The Champions 1.4 – The Experiment

Tony Williamson’s “The Experiment” is one of the few episodes of The Champions to pit our three heroes against worthy adversaries. This was kind of the way of things in the sixties and seventies. Regular readers will recall that I would occasionally bemoan how most episodes of, say, The Six Million Dollar Man and the like would concern themselves more with counterfeiters in turtlenecks instead of having proper robot enemies and Bigfoot more often. So it is with The Champions, typically. These are good and entertaining spy stories, but the characters’ superhuman abilities just give them an occasional edge, and some very satisfying stunts, rather than a focus for the plot.

But in “The Experiment,” they run up against a quartet of characters whose reaction speed and fighting techniques have been artificially augmented. Remarkably, the villains in charge of the operation have been reading between the lines of the various secret agency secret reports and have figured out that Richard, Craig, and Sharron have superhuman skills and lure Sharron into their scheme under the guise of an experiment so they can study her speed and reaction first-hand. Their own boss never figures that out. So it builds to an exciting climax and a very good final fight scene that had our son hopping. It’s a really entertaining episode, probably my favorite of the fourteen that I originally had back in the tape trading days. More on that in a later post.

I’ve always thought that a great guest cast can elevate a good story, and this one’s just full of familiar faces. One of ITC’s regular Americans-at-Elstree, David Bauer, is the main villain, and he also has Robert James and Allan Cuthbertson in his employ. Jonathan Burn and none-more-posh Caroline Blakiston are two of the rival superhumans, and Nicholas Courtney has a small role as a doctor. There’s also a very familiar setting. Marie often says that she doesn’t recognize actors the way that I do, but she has an eye for places, and when Richard and Craig drive through the small village of Aldbury, she immediately spotted it as the location of a pair of Avengers episodes. Aldbury, Schmaldbury, everybody knows that town is Little Storping In-The-Swuff!

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