Although the opening episode of Pathfinders to Mars was only broadcast a mere six weeks after the conclusion of Pathfinders in Space, quite a few changes had been made.
Jimmy and Valerie are gone, although those hoping that Hamlet the guinea pig would also be absent will be disappointed. To replace them we have Henderson’s twelve-year old niece Margaret (Hester Cameron), who even at this tender age is something of a scientist.
As for Professor Wedgewood, he only appears in the opening episode – thereafter Conway Henderson becomes the male heroic lead. Ian Murray returns, but he’s now resident on Buchan Island rather than a member of the crew. Also back are Professor Mary Meadows and Geoffrey Wedgewood.
The cast re-jigs leave us with a better mix on the MR4 – with two groups of characters that naturally gravitate towards each other (Henderson and Mary, Geoffrey and Margaret) plus a wildcard – Harcourt Brown (George Coulouris).
Brown adds a sense of danger and unpredictability into the narrative, something which was largely missing from Pathfinders in Space. True, Dr O’Connell did occasionally act irrationally, but his moments of madness soon passed. With Brown we have someone who has a burning desire to pursue his own agenda, even if it means risking the lives of the others.
The opening minutes of The Imposter sees the dramatic intensity pitched to at least eleven. Partly because of the highly melodramatic stock music, but also due to the way that Ian reacts (or overacts, depending on your point of view) with horror at the events unfolding on the launchpad. There’s an accident, somebody’s hurt …. oh my goodness it’s Professor Wedgewood! The tension ramps down a little when it’s revealed that he’s only got a broken arm, but it explains why he won’t be taking any part in the planned mission to the Moon.
So once again Henderson is pressed into service. As before, he only turned up to Buchan Island to cover the launch for his newspaper but finds himself strapped into the hotseat. Suspension of disbelief is required again – why aren’t there more trained astronauts? And even if there aren’t, what’s so urgent about this mission that it can’t wait until Wedgewood recovers?
Our first sight of Margaret isn’t that promising. Like Valerie she’s rather squeaky and earnest, but maybe she’ll settle down. After haranguing the security guard she eventually manages to gain access to the control room thanks to the intervention of Geoffrey. The guard tells him that “she’ll be a right problem when she grows up, you’d better keep your eye on her.” Geoffrey’s response is short and world-weary. “Girls”!
Once Margaret knows that her uncle is piloting the ship she’s as keen as mustard to join him. “I could look after supplies, I can cook and I know first aid”. Wedgewood, puffing on his pipe, is sold although Geoffrey is far from pleased at the prospect. When Mary arrives, that just leaves Professor Hawkins (Bernard Horsfall) to complete the crew. But Hawkins is waylaid by Brown who takes his place, hence the episode title. A pity that Hawkins didn’t join the others as Horsfall’s always an actor worth watching, but our first sight of the duplicitous Brown shows that he’s a character with plenty of scope. He certainly contrasts nicely with some of the other more earnest (or wooden) performers.
Although it’s easy to mock some of the plotting, other elements are quite neatly handed. For example, we see Geoffrey with a book which posits there might be life on Mars. Margaret disagrees and the pair have a mildly heated argument. As the pair leave the room, the camera focuses on the book and the author’s name – Harcourt Brown – is shown. For the moment that wouldn’t mean anything to the first-time viewer, but all will become clear later on. It’s a nice piece of shorthand that establishes Brown’s character – even when he’s not on the screen – and lets us know what he believes in and what his plan will be.
I’m pleased to see that the crew are wearing their spacesuits on take-off as it just didn’t seem right that they were all lounging around in cardigans last time! So its time to strap yourself in and enjoy the ride …..