Thursday, 17 October 2013

Thursday 17 October 1963

Creaky old kids' puppet show it might be, but in some ways Space Patrol is surprisingly ahead of its time.  Unlike, say, Fireball XL5, which is a series of discrete adventures with generally no bearing on that of the previous or subsequent week, Space Patrol keeps several plot elements going between episodes - often a seemingly unimportant detail introduced one week will prove to be significant later on.  Curiously, the show was reportedly a big influence on US sci-fi series Babylon 5, which was acclaimed in the 90s for its use of an ongoing "story arc".  These days it's hard to imagine a sci-fi series being made without this kind of overarching story.

Anyway, enough of this waffle, let's get on with this week's episode, and you'll see what I'm on about.  Once again, the Earth is in dire peril.  The antagonist this week is a fungus that's rapidly killing off all the planet's vegetation, meaning the entire population is soon likely to starve.  Professor Haggerty sets to finding a way out of this dire predicament, his frequent microscope-gazing this week allowing us a good look at his remarkably lustrous lashes.

Colonel Raeburn, meanwhile, is trying to control the distribution of the remaining food supplies.  The situation in Asia is especially bad (as reported by the dodgy Japanese puppet we saw last week).  Seeking help from underwater seaweed farm operator Sam (who somehow survived his entire workforce going on the attack in The Robot Revolution), Raeburn receives the memorable reply "We don't grow rice down here, Colonel!" I suppose living underwater doesn't do much for your understanding of other cultures.  Anyway, the fungus has now even managed to kill off Sam's seaweed crop.

Haggerty takes a diseased ear of wheat to show the Colonel: "Put it away, I've seen enough!" he cries as soon as the Professor whips it out.  

To demonstrate the fungus's instantly lethal properties, Haggerty touches a plant on Raeburn's desk with it.

But wait - not only is this plant unaffected by the fungus, it actually manages to kill it! The plant is in fact a cutting from the Holy Tree of Saturn (first heard of in The Rings of Saturn a few weeks back), and if the Saturnians are willing to provide more Haggerty will be able to create an antidote and save the world (again -it must get quite tiring after a while).

Raeburn and Haggerty's conversation - particularly the bit about the leaves from the Holy Tree being "worth their weight in gold" has been overheard by a sinister, extravagantly Cockney workman who's come in to fix Raeburn's monitor.  It seems quite likely he's up to no good.

The Saurnians agree to provide their whole spring crop of leaves to help out Earth.  As Larry Dart and his crew board their Galasphere to journey to go and collect them, the workman sneaks on board - without going through decontamination.  Given that it takes months to get to Saturn and he doesn't go in the freezer like the crew, it must be a journey of excruciating tedium (not to mention hunger and thirst) for him.  That's not dwelt on, though - next thing we know the crew have awoken only to be confronted by the stowaway -"Just call me Jones" - and cocooned by a blast from his plastifoam gun.

Jones' plot is to pose as the Galasphere captain and obtain the leaves for himself, then force Raeburn to buy them from him for a vast fee.  And it nearly works - until he agrees to have dinner with the Saturnians before heading off (presumably getting the crew to fly the ship at gunpoint). Aboard the Galasphere Husky's strong teeth prove a boon as he manages to bite his way out of the plastifoam and free his crewmates.  But venturing outside, Dart and Husky find themselves captured by some decidedly unfriendly Saturnians (although they always look quite friendly - they can't help it).

Turns out Jones' bypassing of the decontamination process has seen him spread a disease which has killed over 200 Saturnians in the time he's been on the planet.  The Saturnian leader's convinced it's a plot to get control of the Holy Tree, and bungs the Galasphere crew in jail, refusing to listen to their protests: though eventually he comes begging to Dart when his only son and heir to his throne (well, bath) contracts the mysterious "barking disease".  The baby Saturnian is ridiculously cute in a handmade sort of way, and if this show were on the telly now toys of it would be flying off the shelves.

Turns out it's a cold, which unfortunately is lethal to Saturnians.  Fortunately, though, the people of Earth have found a cure for it by now.  Which the little prince takes, and is cured.  Hooray!

This magical Lemsip, or whatever it is, is made available all over the planet, and the Saturnians are saved.  The grateful leader sends the Galasphere on its way with the leaves which can save Earth.  Co-operation is a lovely thing.  And Jones has to face the further grinding tedium of the journey back to Earth, this time with his movement severely restricted.

Next tonight, Simon Templar's gone rogue.  Instead of the whimsical monologue he usually begins his show with, he starts off by aiming a shotgun at us.  Charming.

Despite the lack of the usual scene-setting caption, you may have gathered that we're in London.  Simon's out shopping for hunting gear with his latest ladyfriend, the aristocratic Anne Ripwell (Ghost Squad's Angela Browne, sporting a hairdo that's sailing dangerously close to Pat Butcher territory).  The shop assistant, Mrs Ellshaw (Ellen McIntosh), a former secretary of Anne's father, Sir John Ripwell,  is distracted from her duties by the sight of a ghastly apparition outside the window (Philip Latham - as the apparition, not the window).

Mrs Ellshaw drops everything and rushes out into the street, clearly discombobulated by the sight.  The chap's her stray husband, who supposedly ran off to Canada some time ago.  Initially he denies all knowledge of her, and then tells her he mustn't tell her what's been going on with him.  Simon and Anne find her and take her home, where a stiff drink's the order of the day.

Initially Simon thinks Mr Ellshaw's abandonment of his wife is a perfectly simple case of "marriage fatigue", but when Mrs Ellshaw's later killed by an unseen gunperson, the matter takes on a more serious cast.

Investigating the crime is Simon's old adversary Inspector Claude Eustace Teal, sporting another new face.  This time it's the unlovely one of Alfred Hitchcock lookalike Norman Pitt.  This week he seems more agreeable to the Saint than usual.

There's a further suspicious development as Anne's father (Richard Vernon) gets shot while out on the hunt.  Is it an accident? No.

We switch to tried-and-tested country house whodunnit mode now, with a roster of familiar suspects.  There's Sir John's business associate Hugo Meyer (Walter Brown), a ridiculous caricature Socialist with requisite Northern accent and chippy attitude...

Ripwell's clearly unstable son Kenneth (Philip Bond, who seems to make a speciality of these hysterical young aristos), whose sister's deeply concerned by his increasingly strange behaviour...

...And then there's Sir John's new secretary, Martin Irelock (Anthony Bate) - but surely it couldn't be him, as he foils another attempt on Ripwell's life, this time with poison, just in time.

Kenneth confesses to Anne that he's a murderer.  So is that the mystery solved? Not quite.  It turns out there was a barney between Sir John and Ellshaw, with Ellshaw accusing Sir John of sleeping with his wife.  Kenneth thought he'd killed Ellshaw in a fight, but didn't really.  The culprits turn out to be Ellshaw and Irelock, who were working together to get their hands on Sir John's money (the drink wasn't really poisoned at all).  Ellshaw, revealed as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, killed his own wife.  Simon gives him what-for.

The Elusive Ellshaw's not a particularly thrilling instalment of Simon Templar's adventures, as my admittedly half-arsed summary probably suggests.  Probably the most interesting thing about it is this set of traffic lights.  Why don't they look like this today?

1 comment:

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