Zodiac – The Strength of Gemini


Written by Philip Broadley
Directed by James Ferman

Paul Derring (Norman Eshley) is a smooth-talking conman who targets beautiful, young, upper-class women.  He spies his latest mark, Elizabeth Charmont (Jenny Hanley), and moves in.  Elizabeth has never met him before – but he seems to know everything about her.  “Although we’ve never met, I know you. There is an empathy between us.”  He goes on to tell her things about herself that no stranger could possibly know.  Initially it seems that he’s an astrologer like Esther, but it turns out he’s been abusing Esther’s gifts for his own ends – which proves to be his downfall.

Since Esther writes a successful horoscope column (under the name of “Sibyl”) she receives many requests for personal horoscopes.  One such letter strikes a chord and she suddenly realises that recently she’s been sent numerous pleas for horoscopes – apparently from different people – but now it dawns on her that they’ve all come from the same person.  The names are different each time, but a handwriting expert called Toby (Charles Lloyd Pack) confirms that the signatures are all from the same hand.  So Esther calls in Gradley – she wants to find out who’s been doing this and why.

Since the opening of the story is Esther-centric, Gradley doesn’t appear until thirteen minutes in – but it’s worth waiting for, as Anton Rodgers is a vision in denim.  Maybe he was dressed down in order to make Hempel (who’s wearing a rather nice black evening dress) look even more stunning?  Esther shows him the letters and they decide that the first one – sent by a Paul Derring – is probably genuine.  So can they locate Derring?

Jenny Hanley & Norman Eshley
Jenny Hanley & Norman Eshley

The system he’s worked out to provide himself with victims is quite neat – he has a confederate called Penny (Deborah Norton) who works at a flower shop which is frequented by the upper-classes.  Whenever somebody visits to buy flowers for a likely target’s birthday, Penny makes a note of their birth-date and address and passes the information onto Derring.  He then requests a horoscope from Esther and therefore is able to astound his latest conquest with a host of impressive facts about their life.

Philip Broadley’s script follows the template laid down by Roger Marshall’s first two stories.  There’s plenty of banter between the two leads and a general lightness of touch throughout.  Whilst Derring is a conman, he also has a sense of humour and the script and direction help to accentuate this by throwing in the odd, wrong-footing moment.  My favourite is the scene that opens with a close-up on Derring’s face.  He looks quite serious, but as the camera pans down it becomes clear that he’s merely standing in his underpants, ironing his trousers!

The obvious plan is for Esther to present herself to Derring as his latest victim, which causes Gradley a little pain as she artfully stokes up his jealousy by casually mentioning how charming Derring is.  Fashion-wise, Hempel sports a variety of costumes, from the aforementioned black dress to a towel (and looks good in all of them).  Thankfully, Rodgers’ denim interlude is quite brief and he spends the rest of the story more conventionally attired.

One unusual thing about the series to date is that it’s completely studio-bound.  It wasn’t unheard of for some 1960’s series (like Sergeant Cork) to be almost entirely recorded in the studio (although that, I assume, was probably due to the show’s Victorian setting – it would have been difficult to film outside without major redressing of most locations).  Since Zodiac was a contemporary series, that problem didn’t apply – and the lack of location work does make the programme feel a little claustrophobic at times.

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