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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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Adam Adamant Lives! 2.13 – A Sinister Sort of Service

Well, they certainly didn’t go out with their strongest episode. The first sixteen of the episodes we watched were all really good, but Tony Williamson’s “A Sinister Sort of Service” was just kind of dull. The villain is played by T.P. McKenna, and he has an evil supercomputer. I got more of a giggle out of our son suggesting that instead of it being a real computer, there’s a little man inside typing everything out than anything that actually happened in the story! But they can’t all be winners, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Adam, Simms, and Miss Jones. It’s a very good little show, and I hope that another one or two of the missing twelve episodes turns up one of these days!

(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.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.16 – D for Destruction

In case you missed last time we watched an episode: if any readers have been disappointed or annoyed by the lack of photos to accompany these posts, I’ve got great news. The fab site Archive TV Musings has been writing about Adam Adamant Lives! with screencaps. So pop over there and enjoy his much longer posts and tell ’em that we sent you!

And speaking of great news, “D for Destruction” was lost for many years, one of the many victims of the BBC’s junking of old programs. A copy turned up in 2003, and while the picture quality is clearly not as good as the previous episodes we’ve enjoyed, it looks no worse than a VHS release might have looked in the mid-nineties. It’s so surprising that we should watch this relatively recent discovery today, because earlier this afternoon, the great people at Network confirmed a rumor we’ve been hearing, that two lost episodes of the sixties sitcom The Likely Lads (which co-starred Rodney Bewes, who we saw this month in “Resurrection of the Daleks“) have been recovered and will be released as bonus features on a new Blu-Ray release of the Likely Lads feature film.

When they announced Tony Williamson’s “D for Destruction” had been found, my interest in old TV was pretty low, and my stupidly large and cumbersome VHS collection was being whittled away in a series of moves from one suburb to another to another anyway. But once upon a time, that “M for Missing” in my old episode guide notebook was a real sore point because I’d read that Patrick Troughton was in this one. As it turns out, it’s a very small part, basically the Ministry Twit of the Week, only he’s a general, so it’s a Military Twit of the Week instead. Michael Sheard is also here, in an even smaller part, because the most important characters are played by Iain Cuthbertson and Michael Ripper.

The story’s about some strange goings-on and an unusual number of accidents in Adam’s old yeomanry regiment, the 51st. Since the army never actually cancelled his commission (is that the right term?) after he went missing in 1902, Colonel Adamant is asked to return to service and investigate. It’s a pretty good story, but it took our son a little work to understand what was happening. He was very restless at first, but a great scene where one of the corrupted soldiers corners Adam in the firing range got him sitting up straight and paying really close attention. There’s an even more action-packed finale than usual – and how Gerald Harper kept from dislocating his jaw when he low-tackles a guy on a concrete floor I have no idea – and it ends with a tremendously good gag about Georgie answering the phone and getting a big surprise. The audience was in on the joke: the criminals had just made their demands to Number 10, Downing Street.

“D for Destruction” was the last episode of the first series, but there was virtually no break behind the scenes at all as the production team began work on the next thirteen episodes. The show was only off the air for about two months before the new run started. Unfortunately, only two of these thirteen survive, but we’ll check one of them out later this weekend.

(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.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.11 – Death By Appointment Only

This afternoon’s episode of Adam Adamant Lives! was written by Tony Williamson and guest stars Patricia Haines, and actually addresses the question of all the bodies that pile up in Adam’s wake. Our hero is visited by a man from the ministry with the problem of the week, and Sir Nigel requests that this time out, if he could leave some of the villains alive, Her Majesty’s courts would like to see justice done properly. The phrase “cutting them down like daffodils” is used.

The criminal scheme this time was a bit over our son’s head, as was the escort agency that the villains work from, but it’s basically an inversion of the traditional stock market advice. The villains are selling high and then buying low. They spend an afternoon making big sales, then murder the head of the company they’re selling that night, causing the shares to plummet. They scoop up the devalued stock over the next day and deliver those to meet their commitments. I have a feeling that’s not the sort of scheme that would work at all these days, but maybe 53 years ago, the financial market wasn’t quite so instantaneous!

(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.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.7 – To Set a Deadly Fashion

Tony Williamson’s “To Set a Deadly Fashion” is less like The Avengers than it is Batman. Colin Jeavons plays the bad guy, and he’s about as highly-strung as your average Batvillain, not to mention just a little too self-consciously camp. In part that’s to be expected; he’s playing a fashion designer who pronounces “Roger” as “Roget,” when he’s not placing microphone – slash – anti-pacemaker “bombs” in the dresses of the wives of diplomats, only to have his skittish henchmen keep blowing them up.

As always, the Victorian values provide the most hilarious scenes. Adam decides to infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters while posing as a buyer for a large boutique in New Zealand, and arrives just as they’re beginning a show of the season’s newest swimwear. Poor Adam, coming from a time when showing off one’s ankles at the beach would cause a scandal, just about dies from embarrassment. Really, Adam, it’s only girls in bikinis. I don’t think the camera lingered on even a single libidinous ankle shot.

(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.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.5 – Allah is Not Always With You

In the previous installment, I talked about effective makeup jobs. There’s an effective one in this afternoon’s episode of Adam Adamant Lives! as well, kind of. You watch British television from the sixties, you figure you’re occasionally going to run into a few cases where they smeared some shoe polish on the white skin of the actors so they can pass as “foreign.” That’s just the unfortunate way of old television. I wish I could show you the sheikh from this episode, though. It’s that fine actor John Woodnutt, but even the man’s own mother wouldn’t have recognized him with the giant fake nose they stuck on him.

After seeing Woodnutt’s name in the credits, I zipped back for a second look. Our son described the imitation hooter as “wet plastic,” so that led into a discussion of using things like “big noses” and “squinty eyes” as racial identifiers. I feel it’s important to point these out as we go. They’re good tools for learning.

As for the rest of the episode, the only other point to cause any eye-rolling was the recurring use of the flashback to Adam getting suckered by Louise and The Face in the first installment whenever our hero gets thumped on the head. Our son is pretty sick of the flashback and got up to sit behind the sofa with an exasperated sigh when it happened again here. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining hour about criminals trying to get their hooks into the son of the ruler of NosuchArablandia. Dad’s in London for surgery and Junior’s got some gambling debts. John Hollis plays one of the criminals, and I thought that George Pastell was in it, but I was mistaken.

Speaking of recurring themes, this is the second episode in a row where Miss Jones embarrasses Adam by donning a racy costume for her undercover work and enjoys the experience of making him uncomfortable. I figure it’s a fine little comeuppance for him assuming she was a prostitute in the first episode, but the joke’s got about one more airing before it gets tired. Let’s see whether they put it to bed or run it into the ground.

(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.)

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Adam Adamant Lives! 1.2 – Death Has a Thousand Faces

Another couple of oddball coincidences tonight: part of the action in the second episode of Adam Adamant Lives! is set in a chamber of horrors wax museum, just like the one we saw in the episode of The Avengers we watched last night. And in the cast, there’s Michael Robbins, who we saw in an episode of The Avengers just three days ago. We’ll see Robbins again in Doctor Who in about three weeks. He’s best known for his role as Arthur in the sitcom On the Buses, a part he played for many years, but he was in practically everything.

So “Death Has a Thousand Faces” is again written by Tony Williamson, and it’s just terrific. It’s set in Blackpool, where Adam and Georgina have followed an unlikely clue that’s led them to a plot to blow up the coastal city’s entertainment district, the “Golden Mile,” in order to increase the value of some land just north of the strip.

But the plot takes a back seat to two things: first, the story has an incredibly generous amount of location filming, and it’s just fascinating to look back in time 52 years and see all this footage of the city as it was. I’ve never been to Blackpool myself, but I was just riveted by what was there. Adam and Miss Jones even pop into an amusement arcade and the camera lingers on some of the old-fashioned games, almost as though the director wanted to ensure that the couch potatoes in other countries five decades later could see what was there for tourists to enjoy.

And speaking of Blackpool, there’s a great little revelation that Adam actually formally opened the Blackpool Tower in 1894, after doing the city the service of foiling the plot of some scoundrels to blow it up. He did this by throwing the ringleader off the top of the tower. That’s called foreshadowing. Michael Robbins’ character almost immediately reveals himself – a mysterious man in an overcoat eavesdropping – as if to tell the viewer “I’m next.”

The other great thing is that this introduces Jack May as a superb character called Simms, the third member of the team for most of their forthcoming adventures. Simms had previously been “in service,” as they say, as a valet, and had also worked the boards as a stage actor, but he’s down on his luck in Blackpool and working as a Punch and Judy man. It’s impossible to dislike Simms; he’s an incredibly upbeat, optimistic, and downright fun character. When the trio first compare notes together in a restaurant, he offers Georgina a cigar, and, much to Adam’s horror, she accepts.

Our son really liked this one as well, until we reached the scene where the villains have the upper hand and have our heroes captive in the wax museum’s torture chamber. He was so enraged by the bad guys that he broke out his trusty finger pistols and started shooting at the screen again.

(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.)

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