Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thursday 24 October 1963

A tale of counterfeit currency may seem a slightly odd one for a spacefaring show to tackle, but then those who've been paying close attention will have noticed by now that Space Patrol is a more than slightly odd show.  And naturally, what starts off as a story about Earth being flooded with near-perfect replica banknotes ends up heading in some rather peculiar directions.

Larry Dart, on leave for a few weeks, decides he wants to spend the time rooting out the culprits.  As an exasperated Colonel Raeburn notes, it's a bit rich that he spends all his time moaning about how he wants leave, and then when he gets it he spends the whole time working. I don't know, eh? Some people.

Before embarking on his investigation, Dart offers to take Slim to visit an intergalactic art show, as the Venusian's been unable to get a flight to Paris to see the Louvre.  Slim's unimpressed with the "ancient" abstract paintings dating from 1962 Earth, but Dart's particularly taken with a daub of some Venusian flowers.

Husky, who's accompanied the pair in order to stop them "grimbling and gruzzling" at him, is outraged by a painting of the Dictum forest on Mars.  A section of it's been represented as a desert, which he swears is a disgusting inaccuracy (clearly the notion of artistic licence cuts no ice with him).

Husky's objections are met with equally strong ones from a chap nearby, who happens to have painted the picture, and claims this is exactly what he saw.  It's funny, you'd never think he was an artistic type to look at him.

The quest for the forgers momentarily forgotten, Dart suggests they take the Galasphere to Mars to check it out (the deeply worrying implications of a large section of forest being transformed into a desert and nobody on an entire planet noticing are not broached).

When Husky's Martian parrot, Gabbler, finds out they're heading to the Dictum forests he insists on accompanying them - after all, it's where he comes from.  His purported owner's in a strop with him, though, jealous of all the time he's been spending with Professor Haggerty.

Gabbler convinces Dart to take him aboard the Galasphere by pointing out that the forest is overrun by deadly insects called glukes, which are terrified of gabblerdictum birds like himself (I can see where they're coming from). Colonel Raeburn would be happier for them to use a gamma ray on the critters, but the forest is a wildlife reserve and it's expressly not allowed.

Gabbler has a fantastic time in his natural environment, catching up with his fellow gabblerdictums. We don't actually see any of the others though, which could be explained in a couple of ways: 1) the show's makers didn't want the expense of making another gabblerdictum puppet 2) Gabbler's only pretending to be popular: in actual fact he doesn't have any friends.

However, Gabbler claims to have learned that the deforested area is the hideout of mysterious men who have a spaceship they bury under the ground.  And as an atomic printing press has been traced to the forest it looks like this could be the forgers.  What an amazing coincidence! Furthermore, the men carry sacks of "crackle" - a strange material the glukes have been using to build nests with.  "I'd like to see some of this crackle," says Dart.  "I'll kill one of the glukes and bring you some!" the bird cheerily responds.

This proves to be easier squawked than done, as it turns out the glukes aren't as scared of Gabbler as he claimed.  His fight with one of the bizarre creatures is the highlight of the episode.  They don't look much like insects.  In fact they don't look like much, except perhaps a mutant version of one of those long-necked cat ornaments that used to be popular.

Gabbler's eventually victorious, and brings some crackle to Dart - it's a forged banknote.  "I'm quite fond of that big mouth," Dart says of Gabbler, something probably best not dwelt on.

Gabbler bravely confronts the crooks: their leader is incredibly posh, while his henchman is clearly rogue engineer Jones from last week in a bad toupee - he even has the same Apples-and-pears accent.

Eventually the army arrive to apprehend the crooks and the Galasphere returns to Earth, with Gabbler basking in the attention he's receiving for saving the day once again.

Next tonight things get a bit postmodern (or pre-postmodern, I suppose) with an episode of The Saint filmed at Elstree Studios and set at... Elstree Studios!

Not that there's anything more "meta" to the episode than its setting, though: it's just a convenient backdrop for a standard whodunnit. In his opening preamble Simon informs us of the suicide of popular film star Marcia Landon.  He's been called to the studio by Marcia's friend and fellow actress Claire Avery (Samantha Eggar, sporting a most un-Samantha Eggarish hairdo), who thinks there's more to her death: it was provoked by an attack on Marcia which saw acid thrown in her face and her beauty ruined forever.

Claire wants Simon to find the culprit, partly as a way of exorcising her own guilt at having taken over a movie role intended for Marcia.  As is usually the way, we meet various potential suspects in turn. There's Mike Sentinal (Kenneth MacIntosh), director of the film in which Marcia was due to star, and his catty wife Sheila (Marion Mathie).

Then there's third assistant director (i.e. errand boy) Johnny (Johnny Briggs, of future Mike Baldwin fame), and studio superbitch Irene Cromwell (Jill Melford).

Irene, fuming at ingenue Claire's promotion to the leading role, thoroughly enjoys undermining her confidence by telling her she's "the next Marcia Landon" and pointing out her resemblance to the late star.  Jill Melford's become a favourite of mine since I started doing TV Minus 50 - she was made to play icy villainesses like Irene.

Poor Claire's terrorised in less subtle form by a classic blackmail letter threatening the same fate suffered by Marcia.

An attempt to catch the author of the note by planting the money as requested fails when they don't show up.  Claire's plagued by threatening phone calls (she says she doesn't recognise the voice, but it sounds remarkably like that of Tony Beckley, who's playing her leading man).  And she's in such a state of nervous tension that even a spray can of hair lacquer becomes an object of terror.

Things reach a head on set when the gun wielded by Beckley (due to shoot Claire, as his faithless wife) turns out to be loaded with real bullets (which luckily just break a vase).

Claire accedes to another request for money.  Simon follows her, and gets a ladder chucked at him by the blackmailer for his pains.

He manages to get his man, though: it's young Johnny (clearly it's not Johnny Briggs above wielding that ladder, but then viewers in 1963 didn't have a pause function).  Hauled away by the police he insists that while he sent the messages he wasn't the one who disfigured Marcia.  Simon believes him and follows up a lead he received earlier by visiting Marcia's paralysed brother (Stanley Meadows) in a care home in Birmingham.

Frank Landon reveals he and Marcia grew up together in a Birmingham orphanage, with him later becoming a professional footballer.  When he was crippled in a car accident Marcia headed to London to become a star, agreeing to pay for him to stay in the home for the rest of his life as long as he kept his existence a secret from the public.  It turns out Marcia was having an affair with Mike Sentinal, and had planned to marry him, but Frank refused permission: he was her husband, not her brother.  And he's no love lost for his wayward wife.

Returning to London, Simon confronts the Sentinals with what he's learned - and his conclusion that it was a jealousy-crazed Sheila who threw the acid.  As all women must on being exposed as the criminal, Marion Mathie does a great big hysterical breakdown.

The fun of Marcia is mainly in the background detail provided by the use of a real film studio as a setting.  The walls of the reception area are hung with framed photos of performers - as well as Marcia, Claire and Tony Beckley's Barry Aldon these include real people like Yvonne Romain, Jeanne Moody and Hazel Court - not big names, but sufficiently known that they might rate a guest spot on The Saint at least.  There's lots more stuff to look out for, my favourite being this poster:


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