The independent African nation of Bassaland is in turmoil. Pulling the strings and orchestrating acts of violence is the exiled former leader Saul Khano (William Marshall). Drake has just three days to prove Khano’s complicity in a high level assassination and so prevent a bloody uprising ….
Deadline is notable for featuring an all-black guest cast. Given that the pool of available actors in the UK was fairly limited during the early 1960’s, this is slightly surprising but most welcome. The performances all down the line are strong as well – even minor players like Earl Cameron and John Harrison.
Dominating the episode is William Marshall. The episode takes pains to build up an unflattering picture of Khano – his violence and lust for power – which means that when Drake and the audience meet the elegant, Oxford-educated man we’re forced to quickly adjust our perspective. True, the University educated African is something of a cliché but the immaculately dressed Khano (his eyepatch, like his dinner suit, is white) does spar entertainingly with Drake.
Plot-wise, this one works pretty well (Jo Eisinger was always a safe pair of hands) although I could quibble about the way Drake gains access to Khano. Drake claims to be a gun-runner, which immediately piques Khano’s interest since he desperately needs more arms and ammunition to continue his revolution. But nobody seems to check Drake’s credentials (indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking Drake makes up the gun-running story on the spot). And why hasn’t Khano secured arms from another source anyway?
Khano’s wife, Mai (Barbara Chilcott), holds the key to her husband’s destruction. She knows that he ordered the death of her uncle (a respected advocate of non-violence) and blamed the murder on the government. Drake is convinced that if she tells the people this they will immediately cool down (and so it proves, although in real life things might not have gone so smoothly).
Chilcott plays her scenes of conflicted loyalties well and Mai turns out to be a key character (saving Drake’s life for one thing) which given there were only two female speaking roles in the episode is a nice touch.
As with some of the other 25 minute episodes, it’s easy to find everything a little simplistic and contrived, but overall there’s still plenty of interest in Deadline.