The Champions – Autokill

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Throughout the series many have tried, but nobody has been able to beat the Champions. Who could? Possibly only another (reprogrammed) Champion ….

The pre-credits sequence opens with a Nemesis agent, George Brading (Richard Owens), returning to HQ. So far so normal, but this doesn’t last as once inside he pulls out a gun and shoots Colonel Coulston (Bruce Boa) multiple times. It’s an orgy of violence that teeters on the ridiculous – the Colonel wobbles but he won’t fall down as Brading continues to fill him full of lead.

Tremayne gets a slap from Brading as he tries to stop his rampage and then a whole phalanx of Nemesis agents get involved. This short scene helps to finally flesh out Nemesis quite agreeably (for once we see that Richard, Craig and Sharron aren’t the only people who work there).

Like the shooting, the fight scene is choregraphed in a hyper-real way and concludes a pulsating pre-credits teaser that promises the audience fifty minutes of high-octane comic strip action.

Post credits, we drop into a faintly swinging party, where Richard and Sharron are handing round the nibbles and alcohol. Richard eyes a pretty girl, but another chap clearly wants her all to himself, so he decides to trip Richard down the stairs (a tad unfriendly that). Thank goodness for Richard’s cat-like acrobatic skills.  Mind you, the way he manages to keep his tray of drinks intact even after a highly athletic somersault is pushing the bounds of credibility somewhat.

As ever, there’s plenty of familiar faces to spot in the episode. Paul Eddington has already turned up in the teaser whilst Harold Innocent appears shortly afterwards.  Innocent is Dr Amis, a Nemesis doctor who favours dark glasses even when inside (well it helps to make him stand out and also hides the nasty bruise on his eye). Since the bruise is never mentioned you have to assume it was a genuine shiner and not applied via make up.

Brian Clemens’ second script for the series has a different tone from most of the series. Along with The Interrogation, it’s an episode where the stakes feel higher than usual (possibly because the series’ regulars are placed under maximum stress).  The only Geneva based story, it’s also of interest for the way that Tremayne is brought more into the centre of the episode.

After the initial orgy of action, the episode settles down for a while as the Champions play detective, doggedly retracting Brading’s steps. But there’s also an ominous feel developing as Klein (Eddington) sets out to target another operative and this time he’s aiming high by selecting Tremayne.

Klein is masquerading as a policeman (Eddington’s accent is interesting). You have to say that Tremayne is a little foolish to go off with him (hasn’t he ever heard about the dangers of accepting lifts from strangers?). Although in his defence, the baddies’ operation is clearly well funded since they’ve been able to take over a building and transform it into a police station. Complete with a pretty young woman holding a vase of flowers (although what she’s doing bringing the flowers out of the charge room is anybody’s guess).

A rogue Tremayne, now that’s a wonderful concept. A pity that the moment when the three Champions are forced to exercise maximum restraint against their boss is so short, but it’s still highly entertaining as stuntmen fling themselves around the office with wild abandon.

It’s nice to see that Sharron is the most forceful of our three leads. Whilst the boys are sitting back and almost admitting defeat, she’s keen to examine each and every angle, secure in the knowledge that Tremayne – now confined to a hospital bed and sinking rapidly – would do everything in his power to help them if the position was reversed.

Eric Pohlmann is Barker, the man behind the scheme to bring Nemesis to its knees.  We never discover why though – as happens often with The Champions, villains operate in a villainous way because that’s what villains do ….

The stakes are raised even higher when Richard falls into enemy hands. Pohlmann is good value as Barker pumps Richard full of drugs and begins to program him. His target? Craig of course.  Goodness knows where Barker was able to get those high quality b&w stills of Richard and Craig though.

The climax of the episode – Richard and Craig go multiple rounds against each other – is considerably more bloody than we’re used to.  Sharron isn’t left out of the action either (although Alexandra Bastedo’s stunt double is painfully obvious at times). I do like the little smile Sharron gives when she holds Richard steady for Craig to administer the knock out blow. Was this as scripted or an acting choice by Bastedo I wonder?

There are a few little things I could quibble about, but since this is the final episode (in Network DVD viewing order anyway) I’ll finish off this 2020 Champions rewatch on the most positive note and award Autokill five out of five.

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The Champions – Desert Journey

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El Hami is a small North African state which has become an important pawn on the international scene thanks to its bountiful supplies of cobalt. The Champions attempt to restore the Bey (Jeremy Brett) to the throne, but he’s reluctant to leave his decadent life in exile. Eventually (thanks to Sharron’s persuasive strong arm) he’s en route back to his people – but there are many dangers to overcome along the way ….

Yes, the story does feature a character called Major Tuat (Tony Cyrus). No sniggering at the back please.

Post credits, Sharron (in a swimsuit – sigh) takes an impressive dive off a high board and then enjoys a lengthy swim underwater. Several pool staff look on admiringly. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Ooh, Sharron’s getting the pulse racing today – after her swimming antics she then turns up in Tremayne’s office wearing a very foxy outfit (Tremayne, Craig and Richard can only gape whilst the slinky saxophone on the soundtrack hammers the point home).  The reason for Sharron’s garb is obvious – if they can’t bribe the Bay to return, then Sharron will use other methods to persuade him.  Crumbs.

Jeremy Brett as the Bay. Now that’s a piece of casting which catches the eye. We first meet him at a swinging Rome party – it’s an absolute hoot, featuring loads of beautiful people jiving around in a decadent manner (or as decadent as you’d expect to see in an ITC series).

When Sharron turns up the fun really starts and although her role in this story initially seemed to be a sexist one, she acquits herself well – foiling an assassination attempt and duffing up Dave Prowse (anything’s possible when you’re a Champion). Sharron’s proactive day continues when she knocks out the Bay and carries him off. The carrying occurs off camera, which is probably just as well.

There’s a number of familiar faces in this story. Some, like Rudolph Walker, are uncredited, whilst the likes of Reg Lye and Roger Delgado are credited but don’t have terribly interesting roles. Always a pleasure to see Delgado of course, just a pity that he’s not playing a baddy today.

After Sharron gets the Bay aboard a small plane (Craig is piloting) her hair suddenly grows in a very impressive manner. She does look even more gorgeous with long hair, it has to be said.

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Desert Journey features a rather simplistic take on international politics, something which was fairly common in ITC adventure series of this era.  Nemesis seem quite content to organise a regime change in El Hami, no matter what the outcome might be, whilst the notion that once the Bay is restored to power all will be well seems a trifle optimistic.

Some stock location shots are mixed in with the studio desert action. I’m not sure where they came from, but it features three people who resemble Craig, Sharron and the Bay. The woman in the location footage has big hair, so that explains why Sharron has suddenly become so hirsute – presumably they wrote the story around the available footage.

The trek across the desert is quite effective, although fairly low on tension (you know that the Bay isn’t going to get killed mid way through the story). The slow transformation of the Bay – from hedonistic playboy to concerned ruler – works well, with Brett managing to overcome the limitations of the character he’s been given.

When the three stop to take some rest, Craig entertains himself by ogling a belly dancer whilst Sharron looks after the injured Bay (he’s taken a bullet in the shoulder from a sniper). I assume that Craig’s wild enthusiasm at her charms was a Stuart Damon ad-lib.

Desert Journey does drag a little towards the end, but Ian Stuart Black’s sole Champions script is still a good one. Partly thanks to the strong role for Alexandra Bastedo, I’ll give it four out of five.

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The Champions – Happening

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Richard is in Australia, having infiltrated a mysterious group who are doing dodgy things with an atom bomb that’s due to be tested soon. His attempt to round them up doesn’t end well, with the result that he loses his memory. Luckily he eventually comes to his senses, only to realise that he’s sitting right next to the bomb and the clock is (once again) ticking ….

We open in the Simpson Desert, which is apparently comprised of red sand (the ITC studio desert has a much more golden hue though). I rather like the cold opening – Richard confronting a group of baddies in a helicopter – although since he does so in such a smug way you know that something bad is going to happen to him. And so it does – they overpower him and he falls out. Ouch!

Post credits, Richard – cool as a cucumber – is shown demonstrating his super powers by jumping out of a burning building without hurting himself. This is a tad unfortunate as it makes you wonder why he couldn’t do that when he took his helicopter tumble.

Monty Berman always had a good eye. Apparently the fire was a real one that occurred just round the corner from the Borehamwood studios, so a crew was set out to take some shots and pop William Gaunt into the middle of the action.

Richard has gone it alone, not confiding in Tremayne, Craig or Sharron about exactly what he’s up to. Given he’s venturing out to the middle of nowhere that seems a little silly.  Still all three (yes all three) set off to Australia, partly to track him down and partly to observe the bomb test.

This is a bit of a red letter day – Tremayne getting out of the office for once. A pity it hasn’t happened before, and indeed it’s a shame that Anthony Nicholls hasn’t really been used more. Tremayne has generally functioned either as a device for moving the plot along or as comic relief (puzzled time and again by the incredible antics of his three top agents).

Happening doesn’t have a particular large guest cast, but Grant Taylor as General Winters and Michael Gough as Major Joss are both welcome additions.  For me, Taylor will always be the no-nonsense General Henderson in UFO (his General here isn’t a million miles away from his UFO character, albeit a little less grumpy).

Winters is looking forward to the bomb test – it promises to be incredibly powerful, but also ‘clean’ with very little radioactive fallout (this is presented to the audience as a good thing although Tremayne does sound a pessimistic note).

As we’ll see later, the faceless baddies have been doing things to the bomb, with the result that it’s now considerably dirtier than it was before. Odd that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of security around the bomb. That’s a tad careless.

Major Joss is the leader of the black hats, stranded in the desert after his helicopter is damaged. Although it’s not specified, given the accent of his superior (who breaks the news that they’re not going to send another helicopter in to rescue him) it seems that the Russians are behind this dastardly business. Mind you, it’s fair to say that Joss’ boss has the sort of accent that teeters on the edge of parody.

Jack MacGowran may not be a household name, but this Irish-born actor had quite the career (he’s possibly best known for his association with Samuel Beckett). MacGowran might not have been the obvious choice to play Banner B. Banner, an Australian prospector, but he gives an entertaining, if rather odd, performance.

Banner meets up with a still dazed and confused Richard, but their relationship seems fated to be a brief one after Richard succumbs to a snake bite. Richard then telepathically links with Sharron – was she the one responsible for bringing him back to life? It’s a striking scene – Richard in a hastily dug grave, getting covered with sand by Banner, before springing back into life and crawling out ….

Happening is an strange sort of story. The studio desert isn’t terribly convincing and Banner B. Banner apart, the guest roles aren’t very well developed.  Given that it was a Brian Clemens script you do expect a little more, but it’s still very watchable – Richard’s attempt to diffuse the bomb especially – so I’ll give it a rating of three out of five.

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The Champions – The Final Countdown

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Field Marshall Von Splitz (Alan MacNaughtan) is released from prison after twenty five years, but repentance for his war crimes is the last thing on his mind. Still a fanatical Nazi, he immediately sets out to locate an atomic bomb which was jettisoned from a Heinkel during the dying days of WW2. Von Splitz plans to detonate it, thereby triggering a war between East and West. Can the Champions locate the bomb in time? The clock is ticking ….

The way the incidental music swells to highly melodramatic when Von Splitz makes his first appearance gives you an early indication that he’s a wrong ‘un.  The Nazi salutes proffered by Dr Neimann (Wolf Frees), Kruger (Derek Newark) and Heiden (Norman Jones) towards him is another subtle clue.

Actually, subtlety is not really a key part of this episode – you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride whilst not worrying about the plot specifics too much (although that won’t stop me of course).

Post credits, there’s a lengthy sequence of children playing in the snow. All very nice, but where are the Champions? Eventually we see Richard, attempting to dig his truck out of the snow, who dashes over to stop a young child from blowing himself up with a bomb. No, I’ve no idea what the bomb was doing just lying around in the field.

MacNaughtan was an actor of considerable presence. Von Splitz is something of a cliché character – the ice-cold Nazi – but MacNaughtan is still very watchable in the role. Derek Newark is entertainingly over the top when delivering his handful of lines whilst very decent actors like Basil Henson briefly feature (he suffers that most memorable of ITC fates – death by white car hurtling over a cliff for no particular reason). You really can’t grumble about the cast in this one as it’s also nice to see the likes of Morris Perry and Hannah Gordon.

Amazingly, Wolf Eisen (Henson), managed to survive the death crash (at least for a few hours) and so before he pegs out there’s just time for Richard to interrogate him. This seems a little harsh, although Tremayne later tells us that everybody else – the German police, Interpol, etc – has already had a go at him. Quite why Eisen’s ‘accident’ should have generated so many flags with the authorities is a slight mystery.

The notion that that Germans had developed an atomic bomb by the close of WW2 sounds a little far-fetched, but still credible. That it’s ended up lying quite happily in a German lake since 1945, maybe less so. The way the nasty Nazis manage to locate and extract it with embarrassing ease also requires some indulgence on the part of the viewer.

This is a story where the Champions’ superpowers only come into play late on. To begin with Craig, Richard and Sharron are all operating as ordinary detectives – interviewing suspects and doggedly following up clues – whilst  Von Splitz remains several steps ahead of them. The Final Countdown is also one of those Champions episodes which doesn’t feature a lot of quipping from the leads – fair enough, since there’s an atomic bomb floating about it’s probably not the time for merry jests.

A small piece of trivia – I think this is the first time we discover that Tremayne has a secretary (we don’t see her, just hear a disembodied voice on the intercom).

Craig is captured and given a thorough working over by Heiden. After slapping him around for a few minutes, Heiden asks him “who are you? Who are you?” which (thirty five minutes in) were Norman Jones’ first lines. Before then he’d just been called upon to loom menacingly in the background.

Richard rescues Craig (Sharron is forced to stay outside – which seems a little unfair). I love the entertaining punch up between Richard, Craig and the Nazis, even better is the way they both crash through the windows to confront Dr Neimann, who’s standing over the ticking bomb. Stuart Damon seems to go a bit Jimmy Cagney when Craig confronts Neimann.

Richard once again attempts to send Sharron away – is he afraid for her life or is he just a bit of a male chauvinist?

Their superpowers are no use when it comes to defusing the bomb so Craig has to use skill, ingenuity and some syrup. It’s a tense scene which concludes a very decent episode. Although it’s a shame that the Nazis are dealt with rather abruptly (Craig and Richard pulverise them in double-quick time) there’s not too much else to grumble about, so I’ll give this episode four out of five.

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The Champions – Nutcracker

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After a visit to the dentist, Lord Mauncey (David Langton) almost steals a file containing vital defence secrets from a secure Goverment facility. Although unsuccessful, the attempt raises several immediate concerns – such as why the previously upright Mauncey did something so out of character as well as the need for added security.

Major Duncan (William Squire), head of M7, enlists the Champions – asking them to steal the file, thereby proving that the current defence procedures are inadequate. Richard doesn’t take it out of the building, instead he memorises its contents. This then makes him a target ….

As so often, the ultra secret defence establishment we see today is hidden inside an apparently innocuous building – in this case a clothing store (Mauncey gains admittance by purchasing the correct tie!). Luckily, security is more watertight after that – he has to input a complex code on a keypad and then plays a nifty little tune on a keyboard before finally gaining access to the vault.

All of this, plus the fact that after he’s got the file in his hands the shutters come down and he’s gassed, do suggest that security’s fine as it is. But had that been so then we wouldn’t have had much of a story.

Post credits, Craig is a togged up as a cowboy and demonstrates his sharp-shooting skills. He of course comes out on top and can’t help but display a certain air of smugness.

William Squire would later have a lengthy stint in security (as the fourth ‘Hunter’ in Callan).  Duncan is therefore good training for him (the offhand way he says that Mauncey is undergoing interrogation and eventually will tell them the truth hints at the ruthless way the Section also operates).

Given that Mauncey was one of a select group of people to have the correct security clearance to enable him to access the file, asking the Champions – who don’t have this knowledge – to break in does seem slightly pointless. While Richard and Craig glumly discuss how they’re going to break the bank (neither are keen on the job) Sharron nips off to speak to Mauncey. He seems rather taken with her (no doubt the fact that she possesses a very pretty face is the reason why she was chosen for this mission).

Security at M7 doesn’t seem to be that good – considering that Mauncey is later murdered in his cell. Perhaps Duncan needs to stop worrying about the security of his top files and instead concentrate on a root and branch review of the entire department ….

The boys toss a coin to decide who will break into the vault (Richard loses and has to do the job). Sharron is excluded from this, much to her disgust, but you can sort of understand why – given that the ‘password’ involves purchasing a tie.  The break-in scene is a fairly tense one, although it can’t help but feel slightly like padding – now it’s been established that someone is keen to get their hands on these secrets, the story won’t advance until we meet them.

Richard is lifted immediately after leaving the vault. How did the black hats know where he was and what he was doing? Given that we’ve only met one member of M7, this particular mystery doesn’t seem that taxing (Nutcracker is a spy story told in a very linear way).

Right from the pre-credits, it looks obvious that the dentist – Warre (John Franklyn Robbins) – is decidedly dodgy, and although this isn’t confirmed until the close of the story, the reveal therefore won’t come as a surprise.  Warre’s brain-washing techniques are a story element that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in The Avengers.

It’s always nice to see David Langton and William Squire, but both are slightly underused. Nutcracker has all the elements for a top episode but something doesn’t quite click for me – a touch more mystery and a few red herrings might have helped.  The climatic fight is also something of a damp squib as it’s over almost as soon as it begins. And the fact we don’t have a tag scene means that the episode ends rather abruptly after this brief punch-up.

Having said all that though, Nutcracker moves at a decent pace throughout so I’m happy to give it a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Gun-Runners

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A cache of Japanese weapons from WW2 are discovered in a Burmese jungle. They’re intercepted by a group of gun-runners who plan to sell them to international arms dealer Hartington (William Franklin). The Champions follow a winding trail which eventually leads them to Africa ….

For once we aren’t using the regular teeny-tiny jungle studio set to stand in for the Burmese jungle. This makes all the difference – being able to see natural light helps to create the illusion that the series has actually gone abroad. Anthony Chinn once again gets a few lines of dialogue but goes uncredited as one of the unfortunate Burmese soldiers machine gunned to death by the gun-runners. There’s no blood though, which makes this sudden orgy of violence a little more palatable.

Sharron (“Intelligent, beautiful”) is the star of this week’s post credits superpowers demonstration. Dressed to kill after a night on the tiles, she moves a car for a couple of drunk chaps. The fact she’s alone hints at her independent nature (although when she turns up at Nemesis HQ, Craig can’t resist leering in her direction).

Our three heroes head out to Burma. Sharron and Richard keep tabs on Hartington, who has a meeting with Nadkarni (a delightfully sweaty Wolfe Morris).  I do rather like Richard’s disguise (a pair of dark glasses) which is nicely inconspicuous when you’re sitting in a restaurant.

Meanwhile Craig talks to the police captain in charge of the case (a slightly hysterical Ric Young). These scenes chug along with a fairly low level of excitement, although William Franklin and David Lodge (as Hartington’s number two, Filmer) are always watchable, if rather underused.

Half way through the story I was still waiting for it to click into gear. More good actors (Guy Deghy, Paul Stassino) pop up, but the plot seems rather small beer.  Surely there must be arms shipments happening all the time, why is this one so special?

So you have to take your entertainment where you can – such as a few nice comic moments for William Gaunt or a highly unconvincing shot of Stuart Damon matted into some Burmese street footage. Things start to pick up when Craig meets Hartington – Craig getting squashed by a packing case directed at him by Filmer is nicely done (as is his athletic escape from the warehouse cellar).

If the audience might possibly be suffering from a faint case of boredom as the episode wears on, then this seems to be mirrored by the Champions (who are now back at Nemesis HQ). When the most exciting thing to happen for a while is the way they all manage to throw their Styrofoam cups into the waste paper bin, you know you’re in trouble ….

Thankfully things are slightly more energised once they head out to Africa. We may be back in the teeny-tiny studio jungle set, but there are compensations – such as a chimpanzee waking across shot or Sharron’s rather attractive jungle-wear.  I’ll dock them a point for another less than impressive matte shot though – those giraffes seem to be wobbling about a bit.

Hartington and his associates have also travelled to Africa but are less fortunate. Their plane crashes, although luckily the weapons are safe (as is Hartington). Mind you it’s impossible not to raise an eyebrow at his massive head bandage which looks rather silly.

Overall this is a fairly undistinguished effort from Dennis Spooner and is worth only a middling two and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Mission

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Winthrop House Mission, located in deepest Surrey, seems to be just a refuge for vagrants and others down on their luck. Run by Dr Peterson (Anthony Bate), it’s actually the cover for a well oiled organisation – giving criminals a new life via the wonders of plastic surgery. Craig and Sharron masquerade as a couple of crooks requiring new faces but soon Craig learns that Peterson has a horrifying Nazi past …

The pre-credits sequence features nice turns from Harry Towb and Dermot Kelly as a couple of tramps seeking succour at the Misssion. Towb doesn’t last long though as he hits the dust before the credits roll (after poking around in a room where he shouldn’t have gone). His murderers are suitably off-putting – both bandaged up like Invisible Men – which serves as an intriguing teaser.

The three Champions are involved in the post credits superpowers demonstration. All recycled footage alas – Sharron fending off a couple of lecherous hitch-hikers, Richard going athletic in The Dark Island and Craig chasing a runaway van.

Craig – with the aid of a moustache and some faked newspaper reports – poses as an American gangster with Sharron as his suitably attractive bit of stuff. There’s a rare comic moment for Alexandra Bastedo during the scene where Craig speaks to a gaggle of reporters at the airport – as Craig pours out his story, Sharron is preening like a glamour model in the background!

This episode gives all three regulars a chance to ramp up the comedy. Bastedo is great fun as a glamourous gum-chewing moll, Damon slips into gangster mode very easily whilst Gaunt later amuses himself as a tramp (pairing up with Dermot Kelly). Richard’s inadvertent shower soaking also amuses.

I like the way the tone of the episode suddenly darkens after Craig recognises Peterson as a top ranking Nazi from the Dachau concentration camp. It’s a slight shame that this revelation comes to Craig via his superpowers though (possibly he’s memorised the pictures of every Nazi war criminal in the world on the off-chance he might run into them).

It just feels a little too contrived though, maybe discovering Peterson’s past through research would have been the better option. But if you begin to pick holes in the plot then you’d never end – the Champions stumble across Peterson’s operation with embarrassing ease, it’s difficult to believe that watertight gangster covers for Craig and Sharron could be set up so quickly, etc, etc.

Craig’s anger at Peterson’s past dissipates very quickly (his initial response is to forget the mission and simply act as executioner). A little more angst and conflict between Craig and Sharron about whether Peterson should live or die would have ramped up the drama of the episode quite nicely, but since the revelation is glossed over so quickly you wonder why it was raised at all.

Richard poses as a tramp and befriends Hogan (Kelly). Kelly’s excellent comic value even though his part is fairly small. Oh, and it’s remarkable that Richard stumbled across a vagrant who was able to take him back to Winthrop House.

On the plus side, we learn a little about the Champions’ biological makeup. Craig, Sharron and Richard all now share the same rare bloodgroup – which is presented as a major revelation.

Anthony Bate never gave a bad performance and is suitably icy and detached as Peterson. As touched upon before, many Champions villains tend to be fairly two-dimensional, but Bate is able to add a touch of light and shade to what could otherwise have been a rather cliche character.

The tag scene is rather silly – the Champions bring Tremayne back a present (a bottle of Hogan’s incredibly powerful hooch). By the way they all nip off pretty smartish you know exactly what’s going to happen (he’s going to try a sip and spit it out with an expression of disgust). And that’s exactly what happens. Poor Tremayne, his underlings really have no respect for him.

Another very competent script from Donald James, The Mission is worth a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Body Snatchers

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Two journalists stumble across a bizarre research facility in Wales, run by a man called Squires (Bernard Lee). One of the journalists is killed on the spot but the other – Frank Nicholls (J.G. Devlin) – escapes and contacts his friend Richard Barrett. Richard investigates and quickly finds himself in deep trouble ….

We open with yet another highly unconvincing day for night shot (given the vagaries of the British weather, it’s a shame these scenes always seemed to be filmed when the sun was especially bright).

Frank’s a bit of a cold fish. After breaking in, he hears someone approaching but doesn’t think to warn his pal (Frank just nips off a bit sharpish). And isn’t he a bit old for this cloak and dagger stuff anyway?

Post credits, Craig uses his superpowers to free a child who’s got his head trapped in some railings. A handy skill.

The early part of the episode revolves around the mystery of General Patterson who may or may not be dead, but whose body has disappeared (it’s ended up in suspended animation in Squire’s establishment). At first it seems like Patterson will be an important part of the story but it turns out he’s nothing more than a Macguffin.

Why has Richard gone it alone in Wales? It seems pretty pointless, since he leaves an obvious trail which Craig and Sharron follow at Tremayne’s behest.

I was looking forward to the hotel receptionist sporting a nice Welsh accent but no such luck. We later see an uncredited Talfryn Thomas as a garage mechanic though, so that’s some consolation ….

And apparently the only trains running in Wales are steam ones. Well they do look nice.

Devlin gives a good turn as the doomed Frank. Even better is Bernard Lee as Squires (Squires kills Frank in a particularly nasty way – with petrol and some matches). Lee was always an imposing sort of actor and easily dominates every scene he appears in. He might have been battling demons at this point (his issues with alcohol are fairly well known) but was professional enough not to let it interfere with his performance.

Given this is a Terry Nation script it’s possibly not surprising it has some science fiction overtones. But construction wise it’s a slow burn – Richard spends the first half of the episode lurking about whilst Craig and Sharron are several steps behind him. We really want to see Richard and Squires face off, but it takes a long time before that happens.

On the plus side, William Gaunt gets to act mean and moody in a leather jacket before getting frozen for his pains, whilst the presence of Ann Lynn and Philip Locke helps to bolster the cast. I also never say no to a touch of Sharron in fighting mode. It’s also nice to see her cosplaying as the Fifth Doctor.

The plot’s a bit thin but there’s enough going on to award The Body Snatchers three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – The Survivors

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The death of three students in Austria catches the interest of Nemesis.  The locals believe that a nearby lake contains plundered Nazi loot, but when Richard and Craig investigate they find that the trail leads them to a cave and a madman intent on reversing the outcome of WW2 ….

Uh oh, the curse of the dodgy dubbing strikes again. In the opening scene my heart lifted when two very familiar faces – Donald Houston and Bernard Kay – appeared, but once Houston opened his mouth the spell was broken. Clearly it was felt that a German accent was beyond him, so he was given a little “assistance”.

Luckily a young Stephen Yardley was able to manage a credible Austrian accent (he plays one of the three students combing the lake for treasure) although he didn’t make it past the opening credits as Ritcher (Houston) machine-guns him and his two pals to a very sudden death.

Post credits, Sharron demonstrates her skills with a dart at a local village pub. It’s a rather strange little scene though, as it has a set up but then stops before any sort of pay off.

Our three heroes head out to Austria where they run into a shifty hotel keeper, Emil (Kay), who reacts with a start when he spies Sharron’s flippers (she wasn’t wearing them though, just carrying them). Thankfully Kay – always such a watchable actor – was allowed to keep his own voice. He doesn’t have much to do except cast shifty glances at Sharron, Craig and Richard but he still does that rather well.

Donald Houston was an actor I found it slightly harder to warm to. His performances could be quite variable (subtlety was never one of his strengths) so even undubbed he might have come across as a touch hammy (as he does throughout the episode when speaking with another actors voice).

Anyway, since only the boys go scuba diving, why was Sharron carrying their flippers? I have to confess that it would have been nice to see Sharron in a wetsuit ….

Ritchter and Emil are out hunting Richard and Craig by the lake. When Emil reacts in wonder at Richard’s gymnastic abilities (“he must have jumped at least thirty feet”) some suspension of belief is required, as what we see on-screen isn’t quite as impressive. Poor Emil then hits the dust (farewell Bernard Kay, it wasn’t much of a part but it was nice to see you).

A little over sixteen minutes in, there’s a lovely gag which tends to pop up in series of this era from time to time (it also occurred in an episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes). The scene opens with a static shot of a snowy mountain range, only for the camera to pull away and reveal that it’s just a photograph at the entrance of the local mines! This has to be a deliberate tease (no doubt the audience would have both noted and appreciated this moment).

You have a love a story featuring ex-Nazis desperately longing to revive their golden years. It was a staple for many years (as late as 1988, the Doctor Who story Silver Nemesis was riffing on this theme) and The Survivors is a textbook example. Today’s prominent guest star, Clifford Evans, has a dual role – the nasty Nazi (Hans Reitz) and his mad brother (Colonel Reitz).

Sharron is sidelined for the early part of the story but springs into action when she karate chops Hans Reitz unconscious. It’s impossible not to notice the way she flings her coat over his head – that’s a handy trick to hide the fact that a stunt double has taken Evans’ place (fair enough though, you can’t really expect a senior actor to go flinging himself around).

Midway through the story it becomes obvious that something is hidden in the caves (which makes the red herring of the murdered students by the lake all the more baffling).  Mind you, that plot point seems quite sensible compared to the revelation that Colonel Reitz has been buried alive in the caves since 1945, growing madder and madder. Although since his uniform is spick and span and he’s clean shaven, he must have very decent washing and laundry facilities down there ….

This is a totally loopy concept, but you can’t help but love Evans’ full-throttle performance (just don’t think about the plot specifics too much). And just when you’re reeling from the revelations contained in a lengthy scene between Sharron and Colonel Reitz, we learn that the Colonel is the “good” German, buried alive by his evil Nazi brother who’s been waiting twenty five years for him and all the other troops also trapped with him to die off, so he can utilise the cache of weapons buried with them.

Crumbs. For the sheer chutzpah it took to create such a plot you have to tip your hat to Donald James. Utterly bonkers it may be, but I’ll give The Survivors an indulgent four out of five.

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The Champions – Project Zero

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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.

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The Champions – Reply Box 666

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An GPU agent called Semekin (George Roubieck) is murdered in his Jamaican hotel room. His pocket contains a curious newspaper clipping which reads ‘Wanted: A parrot that speaks Greek. Reply box 666’. Even more curious is the fact that the sixes have been changed to eights. Deciding that this must be a code, Craig travels to Jamaica in order to replace Semekin. And that’s when the trouble really begins ….

I do love the fact that if the brief stock footage clippage of Jamaica at the start of the episode wasn’t quite enough, the incidentals then decide to go into steel band mode – after all, every little helps. A real steel band pops along later just to hammer the point home.

Poor Semekin only manages to lock lips with the very winsome Cleo (Imogen Hassell) for a few seconds before her boyfriend breaks into Semekin’s hotel room and chucks a knife straight at his back. It’s a remarkable piece of marksmanship, although maybe that’s just because the camera angles were slightly askew.

Craig handles today’s superpowers demonstration scene. He’s out in the countryside with a blonde, leggy lovely (who doesn’t look too dissimilar to Sharron – hmm) and proves that finding a wristwatch dropped in the middle of a field is no problem when you’re a Champion.

The newspaper clipping leads Craig to a shop in Jamaica run by Nikko (George Murcell). I don’t know what Murcell’s had slapped on his face (some kind of orange boot polish maybe) but it doesn’t really help to convince that this British actor is actually Greek. Ah well, that sort of thing was par for the course with this era of television (the acting pool being somewhat limited).

If the sight of an orange Nikko is a little off-putting, then Jules (Anton Rodgers) is slightly more palatable – although his moustache can’t help but catch the eye. His silly accent is a bit of a problem too, but then this is a story with several silly accents ….

When I get to the middle of an episode, my thoughts often turn to plotting.  I can accept that Craig’s been sent in to pose as Semekin’s replacement, but why has no thought been given to stopping Semekin’s actual replacement turning up? Because this isn’t done, Craig’s quickly rumbled (and chucked out of an aircraft by Jules for his pains).

What’s rather nice (and unusual) is the fact that Jules is working with Corinne (Nike Arrighi), who proves to be rather more resourceful and cool in a crisis than he is. She’s the one who shoots Craig, takes over control of the plane and orders Jules to dump Craig with immediate effect.  Females in the Champions-verse are rarely so proactive.

This may be an episode which features Craig heavily, but Richard and Sharron aren’t totally ignored. Sharron’s the one who’s able to establish that Craig is somewhere out in the ocean (Richard’s not picking anything up at all – so it was lucky Sharron came along for the ride).

Sharron also proves her worth by pumping Jules for information. Although first Richard tells her to go back to her hotel room and change into something extra slinky before unleashing her feminine wiles on him. Jules is obviously instantly smitten (well, who wouldn’t be?). Their scenes together are slightly torpedoed by Rodger’s French accent though – the more he speaks, the harder it is not to think of Inspector Clouseau.

It takes a long time before the mystery at the heart of the episode (what is Jules searching for?) is revealed. And to be honest it’s not really that interesting or exciting, so we’re left with a faint feeling of anti-climax when the beans are spilled.

But the episode’s not a total write-off.  Sharron’s seduction of Jules is something of a highlight – especially when he gets her back to his hotel room and decides that a kiss would be nice.  As he moves in (and Sharron decides to lay back and think of Nemesis) we cut to a shot of Nikko shovelling food into his mouth.  We then go back to find that Sharron has hypnotised Jules.  Rodgers plays dazed and almost unconscious very well (as we’d see later in his career, he was a fine comic performer).

The irony is that even after all that effort, Jules didn’t tell her anything. So what have we achieved? Absolutely nothing. Still, as padding goes it was rather entertaining.

Craig washes ashore on an island and is discovered by Clive (Linbert Spencer).  Clive then just happens to lead him to the plane which Jules has been searching for. This is a spot of dodgy plotting that’s hard to beat whilst the tiny studio island also requires the viewer to be in a forgiving mode. Clearly Reply Box 666 was something of a cheapie – no location filming and presumably most of the sets taken from stock.

This isn’t the series at its best then, but it’s still entertaining enough, so I’ll give it three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – Full Circle

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An alleged British agent, Paul Westerman (Patrick Allen), has been remanded in prison after breaking into the Colombian embassy in London and photographing a series of secret plans (although the film can’t be found). Craig goes into undercover mode, posing as a fellow inmate, and together the pair escape ….

Sharron is the star of today’s post credits superpowers demonstration. Driving alone down a country lane (although when she stops for a moment, a crewmember’s reflection can be seen) she picks up a couple of male hitchhikers. When they spy her long, shapely legs they clearly think they’ve hit the jackpot, but our Sharron has other ideas.

Nemesis are cast in the role of peacemakers, attempting to heal the rift between Britain and Colombia. That’s nice of them.

Craig, oozing an aura of super cool, quickly befriends Westerman. Stuart Damon seems to relish the chance to play a slightly different role for once, especially when he’s acting alongside Patrick Allen (the man with the unmistakable voice). Allen’s performance is a highlight of the episode. Like many of the characters seen in The Champions, Allen’s only been given a lightly sketched role – but he manages to give each line an air of gravitas.

Another nice turn comes from the always dependable John Nettleton as Booker, the man hired by the Colombians to break Westerman out of jail. I adore his dry delivery of the line “you should take more exercise, it’s good for me” to the very shapely Sarah (Gabrielle Drake).

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It probably won’t escape your notice that during Sarah’s first scene the camera seems fixated on her bottom and legs (she’s enjoying a rigerous workout on an exercise bike at the time). Drake’s presence is some consolation for the fact that Alexandra Bastedo sits most of the episode out.

Sharron’s contribution to the story is negligible. Tremayne sends her to London to liaise with Craig and Richard and after a quick chat with Richard he sends her back to Geneva!

William Gaunt’s Irish accent (he briefly masquerades as an Irish prison padre) is a wonder to behold.

Plotwise, the episode is a bit muddy. If Westerman is such a top agent, it’s slightly hard to believe that he instantly trusts Craig. Surely he would have considered the possibility of a plant being put into his cell?

A good chunk of the episode takes place inside the prison, but there’s the sense that the story can’t really begin until Craig and Westerman escape. But one upside of this is the fact that the story picks up considerable momentum towards the end. This is where Booker takes centre stage as he tortures Craig (who has been misidentified as Westerman) in order to discover the location of the film.

Booker doesn’t seem at all surprised to learn that an American is working for British intelligence. This is another plot weakness (how fortunate that Westerman’s id, which he slips into Craig’s pocket, didn’t have a photograph).  And since Booker earlier asked Sarah to research Westerman’s arrest in the newspapers, we have to assume there were no photos there either.

But the eventual reveal of why Westerman broke into the embassy does feel satisfying and provides a decent conclusion to the episode.

Good performances from Allen and Nettleton (plus Gabrielle Drake managing to make a considerable impression with very limited screentime) all helps to earn this episode a mark of four out of five.

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The Champions – Shadow of the Panther

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We’ve already had witchcraft (possibly) in Cornwall so the next logical step no doubt is voodoo (possibly) in Haiti.

A group of international dignitaries are staying at the Kimberley Hotel. Sharron arrives and discovers that some of them are obsessed with a voodoo cabaret act called the Shadow of the Panther. All silly superstitious nonsense no doubt, but when Craig and Richard finally turn up, they discover Sharron in what appears to be a zombie-like state ….

Tony Williamson’s script bears some similarities to Donald James’ The Night People. Not only the superstitious aura that hangs over the episode but also the fact that it opens with Sharron going it alone before the boys turn up. This might just be a coincidence or possibly it was felt that since the formula worked well once it would bear repeating.

The pre-credits sequence tells us straight away that things are going to be odd today. It’s all wonky camera angles and incessant drums as a poor unfortunate runs for his life down a hotel corridor before being frightened to death by something. It’s short – just over a minute – but still effective in creating an ominous atmosphere.

We appear to be cost-cutting with the post-credits superpowers demonstration as Richard, Craig and Sharron are all seen in recycled footage.  Boo!

Sharron knew the dead man – scientist Ralph Charters – and is shocked to discover that his hair turned white just before he died. Fear? Mind you, it does look more like someone caked his hair with dye, which might be a case of sloppy make up (either on the part of the programme or his murderers). That’s a (maybe unintentional) clever little touch.

I do enjoy a bit of solo Sharron. She may lack the wise-cracking style of Craig and Richard but she’s always cool and calm in a crisis. For example, when contacting Tremayne she’s all business and is also easily able to deal with the oily hotel manager Prengo (a nice performance from Zia Mohyeddin).

The most recognisable guest star is Donald Sutherland, no stranger to ITC series of this era. He plays David Crayley, a journalist who discusses the strange goings on with Sharron. His character might exist partly to deliver a large chunk of exposition in a short space of time, but Sutherland’s initial whimsical byplay is still entertaining.

The fact they establish a connection in a very short space of time helps to give the subsequent scene where he appears not to recognise her a little more punch. Has he been zombified? Or is there another explanation?

If you like drums, then this is the episode for you. Some are on the soundtrack but others are highighted as being digetic, which is an interesting little touch.

Since virtually all of the episode takes place inside the hotel, Shadow of the Panther is clearly a bit of a cheapie. But this actually works to the advantage of the story – there’s something rather claustrophobic about being trapped with all those bongos and an ever increasing collection of zombies (a group of big-wigs, Crayley, Sharron).

There’s a few nice late twists (the reveal of the man behind the operation, for example). I also like the scene where Craig tangles with Sharron on the bed (crickey). It’s all good clean fun though – both he and Richard are slightly abashed to discover that Sharron was only pretending to be a brainwashed zombie. Craig’s innocent suggestion that she should come and look at his pillow is a comedy moment dispatched very well by Alexandra Bastedo.

It’s possibly best not to examine the plot specifics too closely. Why are all these influential types coming to this small hotel in Haiti? That’s key to the plan though, as they’re all then brainwashed and sent off to assassinate high ranking members in their own organisations. Hmm, not quite sure I see the logic in that either, even though the script does its best.

Never mind, if you relax and enjoy the ride then there’s plenty to enjoy here. Thanks to being a Sharron heavy episode, I’ll give this it four out of five.

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The Champions – Twelve Hours

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Oh dear, we’re back at the Holy Loch submarine base. Let’s take a deep breath and dive, dive, dive.

Sharron and Richard have been given the job of minding an Eastern European President called Drobnic (Henry Gilbert). Together with his wife (played by Viola Keats) they visit the submarine HMS Weatherby, but tragedy strikes when a bomb explodes which sends the sub to the bottom of the loch.

Whilst Sharron attends to the injured Drobnic, Richard – assuming command following the death of the captain – faces delicate decisions of life and death …

Anybody who’s read my Champions reviews to date will know that I’ve struggled with the series’ previous submarine episodes. But I’m fully prepared to approach this one with an open mind (although I have to confess that my heart sunk just a little when the Nemesis map zoomed in on Holy Loch).

We begin in day for night mode, with a group of shifty types doing shifty things. The pre-credits teaser is rather low on excitement, indeed it’s chiefly memorable for some rather obvious dubbing.

Craig takes this week’s superpowers demonstration. It proves that he can walk up thirty flights of stairs very quickly whilst also carrying a large collection of parcels for a pretty young lady. That’s handy.

Into the story proper, it’s not long before a sweet little model submarine finds itself on the bed of the loch. Whilst Richard and Sharron take stock, I find myself wondering exactly why Drobnic’s enemies decided to sabotage the submarine. Surely there must have been easier ways to kill him?

After all, you’d assume that security at Holy Loch would be pretty tight. But obviously not, since the baddies were able (although we’re not given specifics about exactly how they did it) to pop a bomb on the HMS Weatherby without anybody noticing.

Viola Keats goes into full overacting mode as a hysterical Mrs Drobnic confronts Sharron. Luckily Sharron is more than a match for her and sedates the woman before she gets too annoying. Meanwhile, Richard is clashing with a surly chief engineer called Raven (Mike Pratt). Pratt adds a touch of class to the story – it’s Raven’s conflict with Richard and Sharron that provides the episode with a dollop of drama.

Richard’s priority is to keep Drobnic alive. The way he persuades a reluctant Sharron to operate is noteworthy, as are his clashes with Raven and the rest of the crew. Until the operation is complete he won’t allow them to move the sub – naturally enough, the others aren’t too keen to potentially sacrifice their lives just so Drobnic can live.

That Drobnic is dismissively referred to as a “butcher” hints at a complexity the script doesn’t really possesses. The President is only given a handful of lines before the bomb goes off and none of them address his morality or character.

If Drobnic remains undeveloped, then the same goes for his opponents. More could have been done with both sides, but they’re clearly just story elements designed to create the crisis situation.

Twelve Hours lacks the same sort of slowly increasing claustrophobic terror as, say, the UFO episode Subsmash. Even when the air is getting pretty low, Richard and Sharron greet the news with equanimity. No doubt this is due to their superpowers (while the crew are staggering about, barely able to breathe, our heroes hardly break into a sweat) but it does sap the episode of tension.

This also goes for the way that Sharron needs very little persuading before popping on a set of scrubs and going into major surgery mode on Drobnic. Especially since surgery isn’t really a skill of hers.

The best submarine episode of the series so far (admittedly that’s only a low bar to jump over) this one rates a decent score of three out of five.

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The Champions – The Night People

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Strange things be happening down in Cornwall, the most notable being a poacher frightened to death by a mysterious white robed figure. Sharron, arriving in the area on holiday, discovers some further odd occurrences. At the Manor House, both Douglas Trennick and his wife (Terence Alexander and Adrienne Cori) seem to know more than they’re letting on.

Mrs Trennick, owner of the local witchcraft museum, later tells Craig that supernatural forces are at work. Is that so? Maybe there’s a more rational explanation ….

The Night People offers a nice change of pace for the series, opening with a series of cliché spooky shots (a deserted graveyard at twilight, ominously rustling trees, etc).  Poor old Michael Bilton, as Dan Dan the poacher man, is marked out as someone who won’t make it past the pre-credits sequence.

We’re firmly in Avengers territory here – a seemingly idyllic country village which nevertheless holds a dark secret (and one which most of the villagers seem to be in on). This is made clear by the quick glance the apparently affable publican Porth (David Lodge) gives to one of his customers after Dan leaves on his poaching business.

The usual format is shaken up a little as we don’t have the regular Geneva briefing scene with Tremayne. This helps to keep the audience on their toes – Sharron arrives to a shifty welcome from Porth and the others, but to begin with we don’t know why she’s there. Surely the death of a humble poacher wouldn’t have got Nemesis’ alarm bells ringing?

That seems to be so (it’s just a remarkable coincidence she’s turned up at a place where the oddest things are happening).  As the story wears on it’s noticeable that although Dan’s death was a good early hook for the audience, it’s a part of the plot which our heroes only briefly interact with.

We’re then treated to a spot of carnival footage. At first I wondered if the ITC telecine operator had selected the wrong reel, but no, this is by way of illustrating that Richard and Craig are currently abroad on an unspecified mission. I love the banter between them – Richard’s expenses claim is remarkably modest whilst Craig’s is a little staggering (including a new suit). Tremayne won’t like that.

Sharon meets the affable Trennick. Easy to spot that he’s a wrong-un though as everyone else in the house, such as his wife and his devoted butler Hoad (Jerold Wells), exchange ominous looks. There’s an awful lot of ominous looks exchanged in this episode.

It’s nice to see Sharron initiating events rather than trailing several paces behind the boys (although it’s obvious that they’ll arrive eventually to take care of the stong arm stuff). Still, I’ll give top marks out for the fact that Sharron doesn’t scream when surrounded by the white robed figures.

When Richard and Craig arrive, they don’t find Sharron – in fact it seems like she was never there at all. The boys set off to investigate, Craig running into a clerk played by Frank Thornton (a nice little cameo) whilst Richard tangles with Trennick.

Craig then visits the local witchcraft museum and interviews Mrs Trennick. As an obvious sceptic, he finds it hard to keep a straight face (which contrasts well with her lightly simmering hysteria). It’s left to the viewer to decide whether Mrs Trennick actually has supernatural powers – she certainly believes so ….

Given how Avengers-lite this episode feels, it’s surprising that Donald James only wrote one episode for that series (Have Guns, Will Haggle). The Night People drips with a hammy atmosphere, but the longer the mystery is spun out the more you sense that the resolution will turn out to be slightly disappointing.

The guest performances are strong, with even some of the uncredited turns (such as Josephine Tewson’s shifty switchboard operator) catching the eye. It’s always fun to see Craig and Richard teamed up, especially since by this point in the series the pair are in full quipping mode. Sharron’s separate plotline is quite strong, although it’s a pity that for plot reasons she has to disappear during the middle of the episode.

It’s not flawless, but I’ll still rate it a solid four out of five.

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The Champions – The Ghost Plane

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An American aircraft is destroyed by a new weapon, nicknamed ‘the Ghost Plane’. The Champions follow a winding trail that eventually leads them to a Cambridge scientist called Dr John Newman (Andrew Keir). After the British declined to fund his high speed plane he sold it to the highest bidders – the Chinese.

Paul Grist, who would play an American several times during his career (he’d later pop up as the super cool secret agent Bill Filer in the Doctor Who story The Claws of Axos) appears in the pre-credits sequence as the pilot downed by the Ghost Plane.

Hardened Doctor Who watchers will also instantly recognise John Brandon (who was the Sergeant in The Tenth Planet). Brandon was actually an American, although whenever you see an American character on British television during the sixties or seventies you do tend to believe that it must be a British actor putting on a voice ….

The post credits superpower demonstration sees Craig running at top speed to stop a runaway van careering into a group of children. Watching this, it’s easy to understand why Dennis Spooner believed that The Six Million Dollar Man had ripped off his format.

The story then moves to the Alps, where Richard and Sharron are happily waiting to follow a link in the trail. There are several very unconvincing back projection shots which do their best to convince us that our two heroes are actually on location and not stuck in the studio.

Lurking about the Alps and elsewhere is Hilary Tindall (as Vanessa). Tindall’s an actress who’s always worth watching – if you haven’t got it, then my tip for the day is The Brothers boxset. She’s wonderful as the man-eating Ann Hammond.

Meanwhile Craig is back at base, searching for clues. Hmm, the first newspaper he stumbles across has a banner headline about Dr Newman’s abandoned plane design. I get the feeling that today’s episode isn’t going to be the tightest plotted one we’ve ever seen.

We later learn that Vanessa is Dr Newman’s girlfriend. Both seen shocked to learn that the plane is now being produced by an unfriendly power, but we already know that Vanessa is a wrong ‘un (and it’s not long before Newman also shows his true colours).

Andrew Keir does his best, but Newman is a very lightly sketched character. He’s a familiar enough type (a disgruntled genius selling his invention to the highest bidders) but we never really learn why or see any hesitation from him concerning the possible consequences of his actions.

If I’ve sometimes raised an eyebrow about the way that Sharron tends to get sidelined when it comes to the rough stuff, then it’s nice to see her tailing Vanessa solo. Although this is slightly tempered by the way Newman captures her with ridiculous ease. Possibly she needs to go back to secret agent school.

She’s now in a tight spot – locked in a freezer with only a limited time left. Luckily she has a link with Richard who has a link with Craig. But since Craig was nearest, why didn’t she contact him directly?

I love the moment when Sharron (after being rescued by Craig) gives Richard a big hug when he arrives. She tells him this is purely her way of trying to get warm again, as Craig only gave her his coat! I find it difficult to believe that Craig wouldn’t have given her a hug if she’d asked him nicely.

It’s interesting the way that The Champions always favoured the Chinese over the Russians as top bogeymen. Possibly there was something of a détente in the late sixties or maybe the series was just attempting to future proof by selecting a different adversary.

The Ghost Plane is assembled with the usual efficiency, but the story doesn’t have a great deal of depth. It feels rather Bondian in places (the scenes set in the Alps look nice, even though they could have easily taken place in London). It’s a disappointment that Andrew Keir was somewhat wasted, so I’ll give this one a score of three and a half out of five.

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The Champions – Get Me Out Of Here!

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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.

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The Champions – The Gilded Cage

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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.

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The Champions – To Trap A Rat

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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.

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The Champions – The Silent Enemy

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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.

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