The Champions – Project Zero


A scientist called Dr Travis is shot and killed by the postmaster in a remote Scottish village. Travis was one of a number of notable scientists recruited for the mysterious Project Zero. Run by Dr Voss (Rupert Davies), its ultimate aim seems to be less than friendly – so Richard is ordered to infiltrate the group.  As you might expect, it’s not long before his cover is blown and his life put in great danger ….

My heart skipped a beat when the Nemesis map zoomed in on Scotland, but luckily we didn’t end up in Holy Loch. Deep breath, I don’t think they’ll be any submarines today.

Tony Williamson’s script is another one which seems to be riffing on familiar themes previously seen in The Avengers.  The hapless Travis (John Moore), fleeing from an unseen assailant, reaches the sanctuary of the village post office.  But the seemingly affable postmaster (Nicholas Smith) calmly guns him down in cold blood without a second’s hesitation. This concept of the deadly hiding behind the everyday and mundane is just so Avengers-ish.

Project Zero is an excellent story for spotting familiar faces – beginning with the very familiar face of Nicholas Smith. His Scottish accent is fairly passable, but then he only had a few lines of dialogue.

The post credits superpowers demonstration scene sees Sharron sampling a selection of wines (she’s instantly able to tell which year each wine comes from). Hard to imagine that the old folks in Tibet would have found that skill to be terribly useful, but they passed it on anyway.

Once we get past this spot of fun and games, Geoffrey Chater is the next very recognisable actor to make an appearance. He interrogates a man to death (who was primed with false information about Richard’s scientific qualifications).  I wonder if Nemesis knew that Voss and his associates were quite so ruthless? If they did then it helps to make Nemesis seem quite a sinister organisation (as per The Interrogation).

I like Richard’s disguise – a pair of thick glasses. He has a meeting with Forster (Chater) who recruits him to work on Project Zero. Their organisation is quite smooth – easily able to convince the scientists that it’s a Government sponsored project. Presumably some of them (like Travis) later learn the truth, although it’s not made clear what he discovered.

Nor do we know why Travis’ body was taken back to London and dumped in the street. Surely it would have made more sense (and been much less trouble) to drop it in the nearest Scottish loch?

Chater’s always good value when playing Government types (even faux ones) and a quick appearance by John Horsley doesn’t hurt either as he also always had an instant air of authority.  Jill Curzon (Doctor Who’s niece, Louise) pops up as a stewardess on Richard’s plane to Scotland – when she looms into the frame wearing a gasmask it’s a pleasingly jolting moment.

The big-name guest star was Rupert Davies (forever to be known as Maigret).  He’s pretty good as Voss – seemingly affable, but given what we know about Project Zero the audience is content to wait for the moment when he unveils his true colours (although Voss – like many other Champions baddies – isn’t the most complex of characters).

Project Zero doesn’t really feel like a Champions story to begin with. When Richard is in the process of being recruited by Forster, Craig and Sharron are in a car outside the building, listening in to their conversation via a bug. Why aren’t they using their superpowers?

And when Richard is swallowed up by Project Zero, Tremayne’s only answer is to set Craig and Sharron up as another couple of scientists and send them in after him.  Many other stories would have seen Richard using his powers to contact them first.

I’m also disappointed that when posing as scientists, neither Craig or Sharron pop on a pair of thick glasses. Oh, and the fact that all three succumb to the plane gassing is another oddity – previously we’ve seen them able to shrug off that sort of thing.

But when Richard is rumbled by Voss his special skills do start to come into play. There’s a good moment when Voss – attempting to force Richard to speak by the application of extreme noise – is discomforted to find that he’s not affected at all. The faint smirk given by William Gaunt at this point is a nice touch.

Richard, tagged with an explosive collar, is placed in a tight spot but luckily Craig and Sharron come riding to the rescue.  Sharron gets to retrace Dr Travis’ dash for freedom – right down to meeting the gun-toting postmaster. This time of course, things end rather differently and it’s very pleasing to see her indulging in a spot of fisticuffs for once.

Project Zero does have a few plot loose ends, but they aren’t too serious. Overall, the excellent guest cast (Peter Copley is another strong addition) helps to make the episode a cut above the norm. I’ll give it four out of five.


H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – The Locked Room


Brady finds himself drawn to the case of Professor Tanya Brofuri (Zena Marshall), a dissident scientist from a foreign, unfriendly power. Partly this is because he’s angry about the way her freedom has been curtailed, but also because he believes she might be able to help him become visible again …..

The opening of The Locked Room is interesting.  For the first time there’s a voice-over as Brady sets the scene about Tanya (after speaking out at a public meeting she’s been frog-marched back to her embassy).  It’s an obvious way to save time which, given the twenty-five minute format, is quite important and it also helps to thrust us straight into the story with very little preamble.

It’s never explicitly stated, but there’s a strong streak of self-interest in Brady’s actions.  Yes, he’s displeased that a fellow scientist should be treated so badly by her country, but he also wants her help with his continuing experiments to reverse his invisible state.  Had the story been longer then possibly this is a theme that could have been developed, unfortunately the brief duration of the story didn’t really make it possible.

Another undeveloped angle concerns Porter (Noel Coleman), the man from the ministry.  He expressly forbids Brady from rescuing Tanya, but after he does so anyway, there’s no comeback.  Instead,  Porter was happy to arrange American citizenship for her.

Rupert Davies casts an imposing shadow as Dushkin.  It’s never explicitly stated that Dushkin and Tanya are Russian but the implication is obvious enough.  He’s another lightly sketched character, but his threats (first to dispatch Tanya to a sanatorium for an extended stay and then later to send her home in a coffin) are chilling enough.

With Brady being invisible for most of the episode, Zena Marshall has to work hard to convince us that there’s a growing attachment between Tanya and Brady.  But this she does very well and Marshall (probably best known as the treacherous Miss Taro from the first James Bond film, Doctor No) is a pleasing presence throughout the story.

The “twist” is one that the audience should have seen a mile off – everything seems settled, Tanya is due to head off to the airport and Brady, Diane and Sally wave her goodbye as a car comes to pick her up (the invisible Brady represented by a floating hanky!).  But wait!  The car wasn’t sent by the Americans, it came from those pesky Russians (or whoever) and they aren’t kindly disposed towards Tanya.

Brady saves the day of course – the sight of an apparently riderless motorcycle and sidecar is an arresting image – and whilst The Locked Room lacks a great deal of depth, Davies and Marshall help to make it an amiable watch.

Selected episodes from series one of Maigret (Rupert Davies) to be released in Germany in July 2015


German company Pidax have announced they will be releasing Kommissar Maigret – Vol. 1 which contains nine of the first ten episodes from series one (originally broadcast in 1960/1961). Thirty-six episodes have been cleared via FSK (the German equivalent of the BBFC).

This would suggest that Pidax plan to release four volumes, each containing nine episodes.  Since all fifty-two episodes starring Rupert Davies exist, this would leave sixteen episodes unreleased.  As per one of the comments below, this may be because the episodes are being sourced from the available material contained within the German archives rather than new masters being obtained from the BBC (who hold a complete run).

Initial reports indicated the DVD would have both English and German language tracks, but now it seems that they may have German only.  So for now, it’s probably best to wait unril the DVD is in circulation before buying.

EDIT – Sadly it’s now confirmed that this DVD only has a German language track. That’s disappointing, but maybe a UK company (Simply or Acorn maybe?) might consider an English language release sometime in the future.

EDIT 8/9/15 – Volume two has been announced. Like volume one it only has a German language track – the included episodes are listed below.

1. Maigret und die Gangster (The Experts)
2. Maigret als möblierter Herr (The Cactus)
3. Maigret unter den Anarchisten (The Children’s Party)
4. Maigret und der Schatten am Fenster (Shadow Play)
5. Maigret und der Kopflose (The Simple Case)
6. Maigret trifft einen Schulfreund (Death of a Butcher)
7. Maigret und sein Toter (The Winning Ticket)
8. Maigret und Inspektor Lognons Trumph (Inspector Lognon’s Triumph)
9. Maigret und der geheimnisvolle Kapitän (The Lost Sailor)