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.