Simon is abducted by a masked man and driven to an unknown location. He’s shown an atomic bomb and the man tells him (via pre-recorded taped messages) that unless his demands are met the bomb will be detonated in the heart of London.
The mystery man’s demands are quite simple – he wants Lynn Jackson (Anouska Hempel) to be guillotined in public. He gives Simon and the authorities until early evening to accede to his request – and in order to prove he’s serious, a conventional explosion will be set off every hour, on the hour ….
The Armageddon Alternative is a somewhat flawed story and the flaws are apparent from the pre-credits sequence. Why does the masked man never speak? The logical answer is that he’s a member of a team and the taped messages were recorded by somebody else. Alas, logic has rather taken a holiday in this episode.
Simon later explains that the voice was recorded in order to disguise it (otherwise he would have instantly known who it was). But that makes no sense – as soon as we hear the tape it’s obviously George Cole putting a funny voice on. And when we see Fred (George Cole) a few minutes later it hardly takes a nuclear scientist to put two and two together.
Fred looks after the cars in Simon’s block of flats and is clearly the last person in the world you’d assume would be in possession of an atom bomb or have the skill to use it. The mid episode reveal that he’s responsible should be a shocking twist – but it’s no surprise at all. This possibly isn’t the fault of Terence Feeley’s teleplay though. He would no doubt have assumed that director Leslie Norman (father of Barry) would be able to effectively disguise Cole’s voice.
What is a mystery is why Fred should want a gorgeous young woman like Lynn executed. Although when it’s revealed that her father, Professor Loder (Frank Gatliff), is the Government’s chief psychiatric vetting officer, things begin to fall into place. It seems obvious that someone who Loder filed a negative report against has decided to take the most drastic of revenge.
A likely suspect is Parkinson (Gordon Gostelow). He turns out to be innocent, but takes a perverse delight in stringing Simon and the police along. It’s a nice cameo from Gostelow who plays unhinged very well. Indeed, the cast here is very strong – George Cole is his usual dependable self, whilst Anouska Hempel is also very watchable. True, she’s not the strongest-drawn female character that ROTS has ever offered us, but Hempel manages to make something out of nothing.
Although laughs are thin on the ground, there was one (although I’m not sure whether it was intentional). When Simon is kidnapped, he asks the man a question and amazingly the next thing on the tape is an answer to the question! This is either an incredibly sloppy piece of scripting or a good joke. It does rather bring to mind the Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as a barber who has an uncontrollable fear of cutting hair though.
Great cast, but as the identity of the bomber is blown before we see the opening credits I can only give it two and a half halos out of five.
3 thoughts on “Return of the Saint – The Armageddon Alternative”
Hi, I watched this one last night, and thought it was surprisingly good – pacey, confusing and disturbing. Real-life bomb attacks were of course a feature of life in Britain at the time. I think it was quite brave of this series to venture into the real world.
You are right that there was never really a mystery about the identity of the villain. “George Cole” is the first name to appear on screen after the titles, so that completely gives the game away. I wouldn’t have recognised his voice though, and I suppose viewers outside the UK may very well not be familiar with Cole’s face or reputation, so the trick would have worked for them.
It does confirm the joke (most obvious in murder mysteries) that you can guess the villain because he is played by the best known actor in the cast.
I remember an episode of “New Tricks” in which Kevin Whately appeared as a rather dull character, and I thought “Ahhh !” 🙂
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It’s always interesting when ROTS did a story that tapped into the anxieties of the time (they sometimes sat uneasily alongside the series’ usual escapist fare though). No doubt I’ll eventually get round to giving this one another look and maybe next time it’ll click a little more with me …
At one point, Templar states: “I have a degree in Physics”. ??? It’s hard to imagine the character from the Sixties series or the books claiming that !