The Champions – Operation Deep-Freeze

Reports of a mysterious explosion in Antarctica have reached Nemesis. Several scientists from the nearby Scott Base sent to investigate have failed to report back. When Craig and Richard arrive they discover that the scientists have been murdered and also run across General Gomez (Patrick Wymark), the despotic ruler of a small Central American state.

He’s established a secret Antarctic base stocked with atomic weapons and plans to establish his country as a great power on the world stage, unless Craig and Richard can somehow stop him ….

Operation Deep-Freeze is another episode enlivened by a first rate guest star.  I assume most visitors to this blog will be familiar with both The Plane Makers and The Power Game (if not then you should check them out straight away).  Wymark bestrides both series as the amoral businessman John Wilder, giving a performance which has provided me with many hours of entertainment.

He also seems to be enjoying himself today – Gomez is hardly a three dimensional character, but Wymark was always a very watchable actor and his full-throttle turn is certainly a memorable one. Subtle no, memorable yes.

It’s very much a boy’s own adventure today as Richard and Craig get to handle all the action. I like the playful banter during their briefing with Treymayne (Richard promises to bring him back a penguin). It’s little moments like these which ensures their characters are slightly less cardboard than they otherwise might be.

Lashings of stock footage and some fairly effective studio work helps to create the illusion that we’re in Antarctica. Craig, Richard and Hemmings (Robert Urqhart) set out across the frozen wastelands, unaware – to begin with – that Jost (Walter Gotell) is stalking them.

It’s strange that Craig suddenly becomes realises they’re being followed whilst Richard remains ignorant. An example that all three Champions have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their powers, or a simple plot contrivance?

Robert Urquhart gives a nice performance as Hemmings (you get the sense that he’s not going to make it to the final reel). Walter Gotell made a career out of playing menacing types (well, apart from Softly Softly Task Force) and he’s typically good value in a fairly nothing role. The strength in depth of the cast is highlighted by the fact that George Pastell, no stranger to playing memorable villians himself, only has the briefest of brief roles.

The story picks up momentum in the last ten minutes or so after Craig and Richard are captured by Gomez. Before this happens, the boys stumble across the General’s stash of atomic weapons and decide it would be a good idea to set a timer and detonate them all. Yes, okay. I’m no expert, but I don’t think this will do the local environment any good.

Forty minutes in and we finally see Sharron. Hurrah! Stuck in Nemesis HQ, she suddenly gets a mental image that Richard and Craig are in danger.Treymane isn’t buying it – he doesn’t quite pat her on the head and tell her not to be so silly, but it’s not too far removed from that.

Her sole scene isn’t really necessary as the plot could easily have moved on without her interjection. Possibly it was decided that Sharron had to be present somehow and this brief scene was the best they could come up with.

For the way that Richard and Craig have started to function as a wise-cracking double act, not to mention Patrick Wymark’s scenery chewing performance, I’ll give this episode four out of five.

Douglas Wilmer in Sherlock Holmes – The Copper Beeches

copper

When Sherlock Holmes proffers the letter he’s received from Miss Violet Hunter (Suzanne Neve) to Watson, he tells him that it marks a new low-point in his career.  Miss Hunter has been offered a position as a governess, but wishes to seek Holmes’ advice before accepting the post.

Although it initially seems like a trivial matter, once Miss Hunter begins her strange story it becomes clear that there may be more to it than meets the eye.  Miss Hunter has been offered the post by Jephro Rucastle (Patrick Wymark).  Rucastle seems to be a charming man and he makes her a very generous offer – a salary of one hundred pounds a year (a considerable amount, which is much more than many people in her position could ever expect to earn).

Rucastle goes on to tell her that he and his wife (faddy people, he admits) may ask her to sit in a certain chair or wear a certain dress from time to time.  This isn’t a problem, but when Rucastle insists that she has to cut her long hair very short, Miss Hunter protests.  When Rucastle later increases the salary to one hundred and twenty pounds, she weakens – but she wishes to consult Holmes first.  Miss Hunter decides to take up the post, but keeps in contact with Holmes as strange events begin to happen.

The Copper Beeches was originally published in June 1892 and later formed part of the first collection of Holmes short-stores, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Patrick Wymark (best known as the scheming Sir John Wilder in The Plane Makers and The Power Game) is wonderful as Rucastle.  Alternatively charming and sinister, it’s a very memorable performance.

Suzanne Neve, as the plucky young Miss Hunter, is another strong piece of casting (fans of UFO will remember her as Straker’s ex-wife Mary).  As with the original story, Holmes and Watson are very much on the periphery, so it’s Miss Hunter and Rucastle who dominate proceedings.

It’s certainly a strange household that she finds herself in.  Rucastle’s wife (played by Alethea Charlton) is polite, but seems somewhat under her husband’s thrall.  There’s a rather surly couple of servants, Mr and Mrs Toller (Michael Robbins and Margaret Diamond), whilst the Rucastle’s young son, Edward (Garry Mason), is a most peculiar child.

Although Rucastle insists that his son will grow up to be an important man, there’s little evidence of that in the very brief time we spend with him.  As per the original story, Edward doesn’t feature very much – but Vincent Tilsley’s adaptation does add a little something which sharpens the characters of both father and son.  In Conan-Doyle’s story, Miss Hunter tells Holmes that Edward delights in catching all manner of animals, such as mice.  Tilsley adds a scene where Edward bashes a mouse to death in front of Miss Hunter (with Rucastle looking on approvingly).  It helps to add another rather discordant note and it’s one of a number of good character moments for Wymark.

Although, as mentioned, Wilmer and Stock don’t have the largest of parts in this one, they do enjoy some decent byplay, especially at the end when Watson was briefly convinced that Holmes had asked Miss Hunter to marry him!  We saw that Holmes was enamored of Miss Hunter’s analytical abilities, but his appreciation of her clearly went no further than that.

It’s a decent comic moment to end the story on, although it can be seen as rather undermining Watson’s character.  This little niggle apart, The Copper Beeches is a faithful and entertaining adaptation of one of the most atmospheric of the early Holmes stories.