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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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Man in Power

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The small Middle Eastern country of Barat is in crisis.  The hard-line Army leader, General Shafari (André Morell), wants to see them break their agreements with the West and then play East and West off against each other.  When the moderate King disagrees, Shafari has him brutally murdered.  No doubt Shafari hopes that the new ruler, Prince Jonetta (Gary Raymond), will be more pliable – but Jonetta (known as Johnny) has a powerful ally – Peter Brady, the Invisible Man ….

We’re once again heading off to a fictitious ITC Middle Eastern state, so expect to see British actors browned up and lashings of stock footage.   But our stay in Barat is made very bearable by the presence of André Morell .  Morell was one of those actors who could have read the phone book and made it worthwhile (although fortunately his character here is slightly more interesting than that).

Only just though.  Shafari is never developed in any great detail – we do learn that Barat is a poor country and no doubt Shafari hopes that an alliance with the East would be more profitable for them (or more likely, just him) but beyond that he’s a nebulous figure.  This doesn’t really matter though, since Morell invests every line of dialogue he’s given with gravitas and meaning and even when Shafari has nothing to say, Morell still captures the eye by glowering memorably in the background.  Without him, this one would probably be much more of a struggle.

Gary Raymond is perfect as Johnny – he’s boyish, open and honest (making it perfectly plain that he’s keen to put the interests of his people first and would turn out to be an enlightened and progressive leader if he’s given the chance) whilst Nadja Regin as Johnny’s sister, Princess Taima, is on hand to provide a touch of glamour, moral support for her brother and to function as this week’s damsel in distress.  When Taima is kidnapped by Shafari, he no doubt hopes it will serve as the lever to force Johnny not to accept the throne – but luckily Brady’s on hand to dish out some invisible fisticuffs and so he calmly rescues her.

If Regin seems familiar, then it’s probably due to her several small, but eye-catching, appearances in the early James Bond films.  The most memorable one came in the pre-credits sequence for Goldfinger where she acted as the decoy for Alf Joint’s swarthy assassin.  “Shocking”.

It’s something of a treat to see two Professor Quatermasses sharing the screen.  Not only Morell (who played the Professor in the television version of Quatermass and the Pit) but also Andrew Keir (who would later play the Prof in the Hammer film adaptation of Pit).  Keir’s role of Hassan, a supporter of Johnny, isn’t terribly interesting but it’s nice to see him nonetheless.

As so often, we’re left with a rather pat ending.  After Shafari is captured and led away we’re led to believe that the crisis is now over.  But this supposes he was the only bad apple and that the rest of the army will now be loyal to Johnny.  Real-life would suggest he’s got troubles ahead, but Man in Power elects to close on an optimistic note.

Although some of the stock footage really stands out (it’s so scratchy that it doesn’t convince for a minute) the presence of André Morell adds more than a touch of class to the episode. Another very enjoyable twenty five minutes.

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