I swear it feels like Donald James wrote everything that we’ve watched for the last month! “The Night People” isn’t one of the best episodes of The Champions. In its favor, there’s some great location filming around the iconic Knebworth House, and Stuart Damon chose to play Craig as being an incredibly bad mood, short-tempered, worried about the missing Sharron, and snidely patronizing to everybody, including his friends and guest star Adrienne Corri, who plays a white witch in Cornwall. Thirty episodes of that would have been twenty-nine too many, but everybody’s due a bad day once in a while.
On the other hand, it feels too much like the far superior “Shadow of the Panther” from earlier in the season. It starts as a Sharron-centered adventure involving some fake magic hocus-pocus to cover up a more mundane crime, and the boys show up when Sharron goes missing. The problem is that Sharron was in command of the situation in “Panther,” and while she’s staying put and quietly learning about the situation while allowing herself to be imprisoned by guest star Terence Alexander, she is really sidelined and left out of all the physical stuff again. Watched after last night’s New Avengers, in which Purdey isn’t sidelined by anybody, it feels incredibly retrograde.
We’ll take a short break from The Champions to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back for the final seven episodes in about three weeks. Stay tuned!
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how I’d taped fourteen episodes of The Champions off-air from a UHF station in Atlanta. “Get Me Out of Here!” was the only one of the fourteen I didn’t like. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t like it.
It could have been a good adventure. It guest stars Frances Cuka as a scientist who’s not been allowed to leave after a mission of mercy to her home country, a Nosuchlandia in the Caribbean which is a bit like Cuba. But the unflattering cultural stereotyping is rampant, and Philip Madoc, who I normally like so much, is unrecognizable in his brownface, his eye for the ladies and his Speedy Gonzales voice. And for a story with the main guest role given to a woman, it’s unforgivable that both she and Sharron are completely sidelined, reaching its nadir in the final fight scene. I think we were meant to see it as Sharron getting the professor to safety, but it’s really staged like she’s running away from the fight now that Richard and Craig have arrived and they can throw all the punches. The kid liked it, but I sure didn’t.
This afternoon, it occurred to me that Terry Nation was apparently writing episodes of The Champions about a year before he took the job of story editing for the Tara King days of The Avengers. Anyway, this is a story that deals with one of the regular obsessions of adventure TV from the sixties and seventies, cryogenics. It’s such a regular obsession that we’ll be seeing it again very, very soon, aggravatingly enough. Nation’s first Avengers script, as a freelancer before he joined the production team, was “Invasion of the Earthmen.” I’ve described that story before as a mishmash of all of Nation’s tropes and traits, and darned if it wasn’t the second script he wrote in 1967 around cryogenics.
Our son protested that the title, “The Body Snatchers,” wasn’t a very appropriate one, and he’s right. Only one body gets snatched. The villain, played by Bernard Lee, has stolen the body of a recently deceased American general who knows where all the missiles are and taken the corpse to a research establishment in northern Wales. In that fanciful way of teevee that glosses over how any of this could medically work, he plans to store the corpse on ice and to sell it to the highest bidder. But if you ignore Dr. Science’s objections, this is a fine action hour with great brawls and stunts, and Bernard Lee is a terrific, bloodthirsty villain. That’s Philip Locke in the photo above as one of the scientists pressganged into helping Lee and his thugs.
Talking of adventure TV from the sixties and seventies, it was the law that anything set in Wales during those decades, even if it was filmed in Elstree, needed to find a part for Talfryn Thomas, no matter how small, and here he is, in just about the smallest part in the thing. As soon as somebody on TV mentions a place like Porthgerwyn or Llanfairfach, you just wait for him to show up.
Here’s the submarine set again, making its third appearance in The Champions. This time it’s another Donald James script that has an absolutely smashing opening: a submarine, not heard from for days, turns up with the entire crew dead. Paul Maxwell, an ITC regular who had also done a fair amount of voiceover work for Gerry Anderson, plays the captain of the replacement crew. I’d say the story doesn’t quite live up to the pre-credits sequence, but any hour that introduces a previously uncharted island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, discovered by agents of Nosuchlandia and used by their evil scientists for chemical experiments can’t be all bad.
Craig gets to ladle out the violence at the end of the story and throws two guards all over the place, and there’s a great bit where one of the enemy agents, fighting for the one available gas mask, throws the main evil scientist into a room filled with gas and locks him in it. That ruthless dude had the makings of a great recurring villain, if these old shows ever went in for that sort of thing so late in the run.
Two of our heroes are sporting remarkable makeup in this morning’s episode of The Champions. Written by Donald James, “The Mission” has a former Nazi doctor working as part of an underground network to provide criminals new identities through plastic surgery. Patricia Haines and Anthony Bate are the villains, and Craig and Sharron get to pose as a New York gangster and his dame. Harry Towb has a small role as well. He played “the guy who gets killed by the villains first thing” at least two other times I can remember. If you needed somebody to get shot or stabbed or eaten by an inflatable chair before the opening credits in the sixties and seventies, Towb was your man.
It’s called “The Mission” because the criminals run a charitable mission for drunks and down-and-outs in order to keep a supply of spare parts going. While Craig and Sharron get to dress nicely and pretend like they’ve got two million bucks in syndicate money to spend, Richard infiltrates the other end of the chain and befriends an Irish alcoholic. At the end of the episode, the trio gift their boss a bottle of the Irishman’s special 180 proof blend, which Tremayne spits out after one sip, much to our son’s delight. He enjoyed the episode much more than the previous one, with the closing gag providing a good laugh at the end, even if he wasn’t entirely certain why Tremayne spit out his drink.
“It’s because that was basically moonshine,” Marie said.
“Ahhhh,” our son replied.
“Do you know what moonshine is?” I asked.
“Well, all I know is that it’s some kind of beer,” he said.
My dad had a source for “white whiskey” once. I think I probably did a spit take like Tremayne when I had a sip, too.
Well, this was not the best episode to watch when we were running very, very late and didn’t even press play until after our favorite eight year-old critic’s usual weekend bedtime. He didn’t like this at all; it’s the only episode of The Champions that he hasn’t enjoyed.
Dennis Spooner’s “The Interrogation” is a season cheapie. It’s almost entirely Stuart Damon engaged in a sweaty battle of wits with an unnamed interrogator, played by Colin Blakely, who wants details on his latest case. The interrogator has pumped our hero full of drugs, so in the way of old TV, Craig can hallucinate a few minutes’ worth of clips from other episodes.
Ha. I say “old TV,” but wouldn’t it be funny if they still did that? For future generations, I’m writing this post a couple of nights before the final episode of Game of Thrones. I don’t know what happened on that show last week, but people have been pissed off about it for five days now. Imagine how much angrier they’d be if they’d wheeled out a clip show instead.
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!
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.