The Champions – Desert Journey

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El Hami is a small North African state which has become an important pawn on the international scene thanks to its bountiful supplies of cobalt. The Champions attempt to restore the Bey (Jeremy Brett) to the throne, but he’s reluctant to leave his decadent life in exile. Eventually (thanks to Sharron’s persuasive strong arm) he’s en route back to his people – but there are many dangers to overcome along the way ….

Yes, the story does feature a character called Major Tuat (Tony Cyrus). No sniggering at the back please.

Post credits, Sharron (in a swimsuit – sigh) takes an impressive dive off a high board and then enjoys a lengthy swim underwater. Several pool staff look on admiringly. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Ooh, Sharron’s getting the pulse racing today – after her swimming antics she then turns up in Tremayne’s office wearing a very foxy outfit (Tremayne, Craig and Richard can only gape whilst the slinky saxophone on the soundtrack hammers the point home).  The reason for Sharron’s garb is obvious – if they can’t bribe the Bay to return, then Sharron will use other methods to persuade him.  Crumbs.

Jeremy Brett as the Bay. Now that’s a piece of casting which catches the eye. We first meet him at a swinging Rome party – it’s an absolute hoot, featuring loads of beautiful people jiving around in a decadent manner (or as decadent as you’d expect to see in an ITC series).

When Sharron turns up the fun really starts and although her role in this story initially seemed to be a sexist one, she acquits herself well – foiling an assassination attempt and duffing up Dave Prowse (anything’s possible when you’re a Champion). Sharron’s proactive day continues when she knocks out the Bay and carries him off. The carrying occurs off camera, which is probably just as well.

There’s a number of familiar faces in this story. Some, like Rudolph Walker, are uncredited, whilst the likes of Reg Lye and Roger Delgado are credited but don’t have terribly interesting roles. Always a pleasure to see Delgado of course, just a pity that he’s not playing a baddy today.

After Sharron gets the Bay aboard a small plane (Craig is piloting) her hair suddenly grows in a very impressive manner. She does look even more gorgeous with long hair, it has to be said.

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Desert Journey features a rather simplistic take on international politics, something which was fairly common in ITC adventure series of this era.  Nemesis seem quite content to organise a regime change in El Hami, no matter what the outcome might be, whilst the notion that once the Bay is restored to power all will be well seems a trifle optimistic.

Some stock location shots are mixed in with the studio desert action. I’m not sure where they came from, but it features three people who resemble Craig, Sharron and the Bay. The woman in the location footage has big hair, so that explains why Sharron has suddenly become so hirsute – presumably they wrote the story around the available footage.

The trek across the desert is quite effective, although fairly low on tension (you know that the Bay isn’t going to get killed mid way through the story). The slow transformation of the Bay – from hedonistic playboy to concerned ruler – works well, with Brett managing to overcome the limitations of the character he’s been given.

When the three stop to take some rest, Craig entertains himself by ogling a belly dancer whilst Sharron looks after the injured Bay (he’s taken a bullet in the shoulder from a sniper). I assume that Craig’s wild enthusiasm at her charms was a Stuart Damon ad-lib.

Desert Journey does drag a little towards the end, but Ian Stuart Black’s sole Champions script is still a good one. Partly thanks to the strong role for Alexandra Bastedo, I’ll give it four out of five.

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