The Champions – Get Me Out Of Here!

c1

Professor Anna Maria Martes (Frances Cuka), on a visit back to her homeland (the tiny island of San Dios), is placed under house arrest by the corrupt ruling junta. They want to take the credit for her discoveries and intend to keep her a prisoner on the island. The Champions have other ideas though …

We’re back on a train for the post credits superpower demonstration (clearly this one was recorded at the same time as Richard’s rather rude crossword completing). Today it’s Sharron who gets a chance to shine – foiling a respectable looking sneak thief by using her powers to see in the dark. Oh, and she looks gorgeous in this scene.

There’s something a little off-putting about the way that our three heroes refer to Tremayne by his surname. Why don’t they call him sir?

This episode has the sort of cast list which gets my pulse racing (Philip Madoc, Ronald Radd, Eric Pohlmann). My joy at seeing Madoc was slightly tempered by his silly wig and moustache but the fact he’s been dubbed is a much more serious problem. In many ways his voice was his fortune – robbed of that, he’s incredibly diminished. Madoc plays Angel Martes, the former husband of Anna Maria. It’s a decent comic role which is totally destroyed by the dubbing.

Luckily Radd was permitted to keep his own voice and so oozes silky villainy as the Commandante. A wonderful actor who died far too young (amazingly he was only in his late thirties when this episode was filmed) I could watch him do his thing all day.

Pohlmann was another one of those incredibly dependable actors. He’s the very model of solid respectability as the Minister – a man with a thin veneer of affability masking something very nasty indeed. The Minister’s meeting with Anna Maria is short, but not at all sweet.

We’re back in one of those fictitious South American counties so beloved of ITC film series. For the location work this means that a few exotic plants have been dotted outside various London buildings. It’s as convincing as ever (i.e. not very).

Craig meets with Anna Maria in her apartment. He’s clever enough to realise that the room is bugged, but doesn’t stop to consider that there may be a hidden camera as well. Tsk! That’s a little careless.

This moment serves not only to diminish Craig’s aura as a top agent but it’s also a slightly clumsy way of placing Anna Maria under heavy guard which makes it much harder for the Champions to spring her. She’s now in a building known locally as “the butcher’s shop”. This conjures up many disturbing images although you won’t be surprised to learn that anything nasty happens firmly off-screen.

It may be irksome when one of the regulars takes a week off, but it’s quite understandable as finding interesting things for three people to do can be problematic. And so it proves here – they all get a decent share of the action, but none of them do anything that really stands out.

There are a few plot dead-ends as well. Sharron phones Angel Martes and it seems that their interaction will be key, but nothing really comes of this.

Get Me Out Of Here! is watchable but not top drawer. The guest roles aren’t too substantial, although Ronald Radd gets the most to do (Philip Madoc’s dubbing is a major minus point though). Frances Cuka feels a little colourless as Anna Maria, but this may just be the way her role was underwritten. The final shoot out looks very unconvincing – The Champions was never a gritty sort of ITC series, but the direction here is especially off-kilter.

Three out of five is a generous score for a somewhat flawed episode.

c2

The Champions – The Gilded Cage

c2

Richard is abducted, spirited over to London and awakes to find himself in a beautiful flat, albeit one with bars on the windows. He’s been given a lovely companion – Samantha (Jennie Linden) – but soon discovers there’s a deadly twist.

Unless he can crack a complex code in twelve hours, Samantha will die ….

The pre credits sequence reveals that Tremayne sleeps at Nemesis HQ (I guess it fits his workaholic profile). The poor chap gets a bash on the bonce for his trouble after disturbing midnight prowlers (who include a young-ish Tony Caunter).

The post credits superpower demonstration scene sees Richard completing an old chap’s crossword puzzle in double quick time. Is it just me or does this seem remarkably rude?

Not only do we get to see Treymayne relaxing at home (sort of) we also later observe Richard at his pad. I like his stereogram, not to mention his comfy cardy. But alas he’s not given a great deal of time to spin his classical records (something which marks him out as a man of culture) as he’s soon smuggled away from Geneva in a carpet.

It’s funny how the Champions’ superpowers come and go. Richard is very easily knocked out with a single blow – I’d have expected a little more fight from him. Also, since Tremayne knew that Richard was in danger (his file was the one pinched from Nemesis HQ) it seems a little remiss that Craig only ambled over the following morning to keep an eye on him. As by then he was already on his way to London.

Sharron – relaxing in a bikini on what appears to be a freezing cold London day (Alexandra Bastedo was a trooper) – takes the news of Richard’s disappearance rather calmly. Make the most of her in this scene as that’s her lot today (Craig’s the one who sets off in hot pursuit of his chum).

As soon as Richard wakes up, he begins to flirt outrageously with Samantha. But there’s the sense that he’s well aware of the game being played out (does he really form a bond with the girl or is he just manipulating her?). Gaunt and Linden interact with each other very nicely, although I can’t help wondering who undressed Richard and popped him into those crisp new pyjamas.

Tremayne and Craig scratching their heads in Geneva, doggedly attempting to track Richard down, isn’t the most exciting part of the episode. Neither is the McGuffin (the code that needs to be cracked).  Richard ‘s luxurious imprisonment is nicely handled though – there are definite Prisoner vibes at work here (the flat doesn’t duplicate his apartment, but does include copies of some of his possessions, such as his favourite records).

It’s a while before we meet Symons (John Carson), the man responsible for the kidnap. But when he does eventually appear the episode clicks into another gear.

Carson was one of those actors who never disappointed. He was rarely a lead performer, but his playing was always perfectly pitched (no matter how good or bad the script was). The combative relationship between Symons and Richard is instantly established with Gaunt and Carson both seeming to relish the character confict they’ve been gifted.

As noted before, both William Gaunt and Stuart Damon clearly loved a bit of comedy business. Today it’s Damon who gets the chance to indulge himself when Craig poses as a central heating salesman paying a visit on Samantha. Maybe the scene was played as scripted, but I get the sense that there might just have been a little bit of ad-libbing.

The Gilded Cage clicks whenever Linden and Carson are on screen, either separately or together. Just what is the relationship between Symons and Samantha? Is she an innocent dupe, an active collaborator or something else? Is his threat to kill her serious?

Their interactions and typically good turns from Gaunt and Damon means that this episode rates a score of four out of five.

c1

 

The Champions – To Trap A Rat

c5

London is gripped by a wave of drug deaths, which leads Sharron to pose as a junkie desperately in search of her next fix. Some dogged detective work then leads the Champions to the zoo and a peanut seller (the drugs are hidden inside the peanuts). But the danger has only just begun ….

This is apparently a recycled script for the never made fourth series of Danger Man (Ralph Smart’s name on the script is a bit of a giveaway). If so, it would explain why the episode feels a little out of place.

We’re deep in the heart of swinging London, although for some – like Jane Purcell (Kate O’Mara) – it’s nothing but a nightmare. Whilst the rest of the Beautiful People (and there’s some real types here) are swaying along to an anonymous library track in a hip and happening nightclub, she’s staggering about the place in a daze, desperately in search of a fix.

This pre-credits sequence serves its purpose though – it allows Smart to quickly inform the audience that whilst Jane was lucky (an ambulance gets to her in time) thousands of others may not be so fortunate if the source of these dodgy drugs aren’t discovered.

O’Mara gives her all as the frantic Jane (it’s quite a small role though). It’s interesting that the Champions are happy to treat her as a disposable pawn – they hope she’ll take them to the pusher, but don’t seem too bothered about the possibility that one more fix might lead to her death.

Why was it decided that Sharron would make the best addict? The inference seems to be that this drug only appeals to attractive young women. Which is odd.

Sharron transforms herself into an addict with the help of a pair of dark glasses and a spot of overacting. The pusher, Frank Edwards (Michael Standing), is suitably menacing although Sharron is still easily able to tag him with a tracking device. It’s quite a hefty object (haven’t Nemesis ever heard of miniaturisation?)

The trip to the zoo is as unsettling as Jane’s bad nightclub trip, since all the animals seems particularly noisy and threatening today. The sight of a jolly peanut seller (played by Toke Townley) immediately gets the Champions’ alarm bells ringing. But surely there must be an easier way of distributing the drugs than through peanuts? And what happens if the seller gives an unsuspecting punter a bag of peanuty drugs?

I love the way that after Sharron has done all the hard work, the boys tell her to stay in the car as they’re clearly the ones who need to tail the pusher! At least all three are involved in the end of episode punch up, so that’s some recompense.

Richard’s confrontation with Frank is good fun. Not only does he indulge in a spot of fisticuffs, he also gets to fix him with his powerful stare. William Gaunt’s piercing eyes are put to good use here

Craig and Richard, as we’ve seen before, are alpha males. So when they stumble across an attractive female suspect, Sandra (Edina Ronay), there’s a certain amount of squabbling about who’ll get first crack at her (as it were).

Craig is the lucky one, rushing to Sandra’s defence after naughty Richard steals her bag. Stuart Damon’s acting in this scene is quite the thing. Clearly that day he decided that he wouldn’t go for the subtle approach.

A late appearance by Guy Rolfe as the uppercut drugs kingpin adds a touch a class to the story. Plus, whenever you see Alan ‘Chuntzy’ Chuntz lurking about you just know that a spot of havoc isn’t far away. 

It’s a real sign of the times that Richard and Sharron were able to track down the baddy by working out when and where the coalman makes his deliveries. A different time ….

To Trap A Rat isn’t perfect, but the shots of late sixties London are very entertaining (plus at least this story wasn’t set on a submarine). I’ll give it an indulgent four out of five.

c10

The Champions – The Silent Enemy

c1

The submarine Keppel, feared lost at sea, pulls into Galway Bay. A grisly discovery is made – the crew of 150 have all died from heart faliure. The Champions join a fresh crew and set out to retrace the Keppel’s last, fateful voyage. They discover a remote island stocked with weapons of mass destruction and a very mad scientist …

This is another of those Champions episodes which could easily have fitted into Department S. The way that the crew perish in such mysterious circumstances – they’re still at their posts (the captain peering through the periscope, for example) – is just so Department S. How can this have happened? Will there be an explanation or will the episode just hope we’ll forget about it? Hmm.

The post credits sequence sees Richard, Craig and Sharron at a funfair. The boys ogle a pretty young lady (Sharron doesn’t look pleased at this) before Craig proves to the pretty young lady that he’s a whizz at hoopla. That’s not something you see in every ITC series.

Uh oh, we’re back at the Holy Loch submarine base. Let’s hope this is a better story than The Search.

Sharon turns some heads at Holy Loch. “Who’s the doll?” wonder the pressmen at the gate, before she warms the cockles of the submarine crew (this is all to do with her short skirt and the way she slowly descends down the ladder into the submarine). The crew on duty (including the very familiar extra Harry Fielder) find it difficult to take their eyes off her.

This isn’t an episode packed with subtle performances. Edmond Knight is rather hammy as the Minister, as is Mame Maitland as the amoral scientist Minoes. James Maxwell, as the mysterious stowaway Stanton, is better though.

Mind you, the reason for his presence on the submarine is a little nebulous. He’s clearly in cahoots with the people on the island, but why hitch a lift back there? It’s not as if he attempts any sabotage en route – at least not intentionally.

Although all three Nemesis operatives are on the sub, they’re sadly lacking their usual playful byplay today. Indeed, the tone of the episode is rather grim, although the script isn’t really strong enough to merit this approach. The cutaways to a toy submarine chugging through the water helps to torpedo this serious approach.

The boys set off to explore the mysterious island, leaving Sharron behind in the submarine. Boo! This gives the story a feeling of a series B Blakes 7 episode ….

Edmond Knight’s Minister dies as he lived (in a very over the top manner). We never learn which country he’s a Minister of, only that it’s one shunned by the rest of the world. So they plan to use gas weapons to make the world sit up and take notice. We’ve been here before.

The tag scene raises a smile though. The boys strongly resist Tremayne’s suggestion they undergo a medical following their island gassing. Of course, once they see that the doctor is a pretty young woman they rapidly change their minds. Tremayne seems tickled by this (he winks at Sharron) although she clearly oversteps the mark by perching on his desk in a friendly manner!

So far the evidence seems to be that stories set on submarines end up as disappointments. I’ll give The Silent Enemy a fairly middling two and a half out of five.

c2

The Champions – The Fanatics

c1

The world has been rocked by a wave of political assinations. A mysterious organisation known as The Fanatics are responsible and Richard – masquerading as a killer called Richard Carson (David Burke) – infiltrates the group.

Matters are complicated when the real Carson escapes from prison. And then it’s discovered that the Fanatics will be targeting Tremayne next …

Today it’s Richard who steps up to the front. The episode gives William Gaunt a good opportunity to do some acting – to begin with there’s a fine two-hander between him and Donald Pickering (as Colonel Banks). Banks is the army officer responsible for detaining Carson in a military prison – he has little time for Carson and it seems even less for Richard.

Now posing as Carson, Richard is rescued by the Fanatics. It’s done in a very blood-thirsty way (the handful of military police officers travelling with him are either killed or badly injured). This is a slightly jarring moment, but it does reinforce the notion that the Fanatics do mean business.

Colonel Banks later gets to confront Craig and Sharron. He wonders if they have the deaths of the military policeman on their conscience. Craig angrily replies that “in our job justification and conscience are luxuries that we can’t afford”.  This feels a little more of a real-world monent than we often see in the series.

Gerald Harper (Croft) and Julian Glover (Anderson) are amongst the top actors enriching today’s episode. Croft is the boss of the Fanatics whilst Anderson (sporting a natty moustache) is his number two.  Harper is icily effective as the implacable Croft. Glover doesn’t get a great deal to do, alas.

Richard suffers a bloodless long-distance spot of torture, designed to establish if he really is Carson. Odd that Croft wasn’t in the room with him, surely the scene would have a little more punch if Gaunt and Harper had been able to make eye contact. But no matter, things are redeemed by a later scene where Richard and Croft face off. It’s wonderfully tense, with both actors impressing.

Given that It’s a Terry Nation script you might have expected a bit more of a science fiction feel (or indeed a character called Tarrant). Instead we get a fairly straightforward script which doesn’t really utilise the Champions’ powers.

And after the action-packed pre credits sequence, the episode does becalm into a rather talky run-around. But it’s by no means all bad, mainly thanks to Gaunt and Harper, and things do pick up towards the end.

It’s amusing and eye-opening to see how both Richard and Craig squabble to take the attractive female assassin into custody at the conclusion of the episode. Craig is the lucky one, with Richard muttering that his friend will be well capable of handling her (a line simply dripping with innuendo).

Slightly patchy, but I’ll still give The Fanatics four out of five.

c2

The Champions – The Experiment

c4

Each episode of The Champions opens with the Nemesis map – the camera zooming into the area where the story is set. Which exotic location will we be in today? Ah, Wiltshire ….

At least it means that Wiltshire will look something like Wiltshire, even if the pre-credits sequence has a particularly poor example of day for night filming (the filter can do little to disguise the bright blue sky).

There’s a deliberate nod back to the opening of The Beginning. A research establishment is targeted by a mysterious figure dressed in black – but it’s not one of our heroes. And in an interesting twist he seems to possess the same sort of super-powers they do. That’s a more than intriguing hook, which teeters into Department S territory when the man is later discovered inside the base, but now with the mind of a two year old.

This is a story packed with good actors, some of whom only appear fleetingly. Such as Philip Bond, who pops up in the first few minutes as one of the officers guarding the base. Nicholas Courtney has the small role of Doctor Farley whilst Robert James doesn’t even make the end credits.

Like The Interrogation, this story features a rather shifty Treymayne – he sends Sharron to England on an assignment, but tells Richard and Craig that she’s gone away on holiday.

She’s met by Major Cranmore (Allan Cuthbertson) who claims to work for DI6. Cuthbertson is – of course – excellent value as the smooth-talking Cranmore who clearly knows a great deal more than he’s telling. Sharron winds up at a country house stuffed with supermen and superwomen, run by Doctor Glynd (David Bauer).

Trapped with the rather creepy Dr Glynd and forced into taking tests against his crop of super-humans (including Caroline Blakiston as Marion Grant) Sharron gets to handle most of the action today. The first demonstration we see of Glynd’s super-people is their ability to play a mean game of ping pong. Not a very useful trait.

Bastedo and Blakiston then change into gleaming white sport kits as the tests begin. Sigh ….

These’s something a little disturbing about the way that Dr Glynd treats Sharron like a laboratory rat. Indeed, the whole tone of the episode is unsettling – as we don’t know why Glynd is doing what he’s doing until we get towards the end.

The reveal is quite a neat twist, but it does beg one question – how has Glynd been able to discover that Sharron, Richard and Craig are more than human whilst Tremayne remains clueless? Also, the way we discover Tremayne has been a hapless dupe rather than a manipulative puppet master is another mark against his ability as Nemesis’ boss.

Craig and Richard get a late fight scene. It’s good fun to watch them both briefly slug it out with Marion. Not the most convincing spot of fisticuffs ever.

For putting Alexandra Bastedo right in the thick of things, the excellent guest cast, the strong script by Tony Williamson and the downbeat final scene, I can’t give this one any less than four and a half out of five.

c5

The Champions – The Iron Man

El Caudillo (George Murcell) is the autocratic former leader of La Revada (got to love those fictious ITC South American states). A vain womaniser, he’s been exiled to the Costa Brava, but his life is still in danger. Posing as hired helps, the Champions do their best to keep him alive …

We open in La Revada (really Borehamwood of course, shot day-for-night and with a few exotic ferns dotted about). A cabal of movers and shakers are plotting the death of El Caudillo.

Post opening credits, the Champions are fleecing a casino at roulette – although eventually Sharron comes unstuck. Which is just as well, since cheating with their special powers just isn’t cricket.

El Caudillo might be a fairly hopeless type, but compared to the current regime ruling La Revada (a ruthless military junta) he doesn’t seem all that bad. As so often with politics, it’s a choice between bad and worse.

Our three heroes are all given their undercover assignments. Sharron will be El Caudillo’s secretary, Richard is crestfallen to discover he’s the cook (nice spot of playing from Gaunt here) whilst Craig has the plumb job of bodyguard (Damon deadpans delightfully as Craig wonders if he’s supposed to guard against Richard’s cooking!)

Togged out in a gleaming white chef’s outfit, William Gaunt is in his comic elemenr today. I love Richard’s ever growing enthusiasm as he begins to really relish his role. 

The military junta have developed some whacky plans to kill off El Caudillo. Deadly cigars for example, which contain an incurable poison. This seems a bit far-fetched, but then you remember real-life gadgets such as the poisoned umbrella ….

George Murcell is excellent value. El Caudillo is largely played for laughs (he’s shown to have the mentality of a small child who hates to lose at anyrhing) but there’s also the lingering sense that his capricious nature has a darker side. Patrick Magee is solid as Pedraza, El Caudillo’s right hand man, although it’s a role lacking in flamboyance.  

But it’s interesting the way that Pedraza skulks about, looking guilty. Is he in league with the junta? It seems not, as nothing’s mentioned about this at the end of the episode, but I wonder if this was a spot of subtle scripting, sowing a seed of doubt about El Caudillo’s long term future.

We’ve already seen that El Caudillo loves to chase women (his maid tends to end up hiding in cupboards) so the anticipation has been stoked for the first meeting between him and Sharron. It doesn’t disappoint – she flashes a bit of leg and looks on adorably as he demonstrates just how many press ups he can do.

The Iron Man has some lovely character interactions between the Champions and El Caudillo. His whispered suggestion to Sharron meets with a stern rebuke from her, which makes it easy to guess exactly what it was he was asking.

And the way he throws away Richard’s immaculately prepared food is like a dagger to the heart of our new chef. Richard takes out his frustrations on some clay pigeons (a pity that the first was suspended by a very noticeable wire).

Even allowing for the themes of assassination and corruption, The Iron Man has a light, comic feel. Gaunt, Damon and Bastedo are all interacting very well and this is one reason why I’ve always enjoyed this one. The Iron Man rates a score of three and a half out of five.