The Champions – The Ghost Plane

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An American aircraft is destroyed by a new weapon, nicknamed ‘the Ghost Plane’. The Champions follow a winding trail that eventually leads them to a Cambridge scientist called Dr John Newman (Andrew Keir). After the British declined to fund his high speed plane he sold it to the highest bidders – the Chinese.

Paul Grist, who would play an American several times during his career (he’d later pop up as the super cool secret agent Bill Filer in the Doctor Who story The Claws of Axos) appears in the pre-credits sequence as the pilot downed by the Ghost Plane.

Hardened Doctor Who watchers will also instantly recognise John Brandon (who was the Sergeant in The Tenth Planet). Brandon was actually an American, although whenever you see an American character on British television during the sixties or seventies you do tend to believe that it must be a British actor putting on a voice ….

The post credits superpower demonstration sees Craig running at top speed to stop a runaway van careering into a group of children. Watching this, it’s easy to understand why Dennis Spooner believed that The Six Million Dollar Man had ripped off his format.

The story then moves to the Alps, where Richard and Sharron are happily waiting to follow a link in the trail. There are several very unconvincing back projection shots which do their best to convince us that our two heroes are actually on location and not stuck in the studio.

Lurking about the Alps and elsewhere is Hilary Tindall (as Vanessa). Tindall’s an actress who’s always worth watching – if you haven’t got it, then my tip for the day is The Brothers boxset. She’s wonderful as the man-eating Ann Hammond.

Meanwhile Craig is back at base, searching for clues. Hmm, the first newspaper he stumbles across has a banner headline about Dr Newman’s abandoned plane design. I get the feeling that today’s episode isn’t going to be the tightest plotted one we’ve ever seen.

We later learn that Vanessa is Dr Newman’s girlfriend. Both seen shocked to learn that the plane is now being produced by an unfriendly power, but we already know that Vanessa is a wrong ‘un (and it’s not long before Newman also shows his true colours).

Andrew Keir does his best, but Newman is a very lightly sketched character. He’s a familiar enough type (a disgruntled genius selling his invention to the highest bidders) but we never really learn why or see any hesitation from him concerning the possible consequences of his actions.

If I’ve sometimes raised an eyebrow about the way that Sharron tends to get sidelined when it comes to the rough stuff, then it’s nice to see her tailing Vanessa solo. Although this is slightly tempered by the way Newman captures her with ridiculous ease. Possibly she needs to go back to secret agent school.

She’s now in a tight spot – locked in a freezer with only a limited time left. Luckily she has a link with Richard who has a link with Craig. But since Craig was nearest, why didn’t she contact him directly?

I love the moment when Sharron (after being rescued by Craig) gives Richard a big hug when he arrives. She tells him this is purely her way of trying to get warm again, as Craig only gave her his coat! I find it difficult to believe that Craig wouldn’t have given her a hug if she’d asked him nicely.

It’s interesting the way that The Champions always favoured the Chinese over the Russians as top bogeymen. Possibly there was something of a détente in the late sixties or maybe the series was just attempting to future proof by selecting a different adversary.

The Ghost Plane is assembled with the usual efficiency, but the story doesn’t have a great deal of depth. It feels rather Bondian in places (the scenes set in the Alps look nice, even though they could have easily taken place in London). It’s a disappointment that Andrew Keir was somewhat wasted, so I’ll give this one a score of three and a half out of five.

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