Thursday, 3 October 2013

Thursday 3 October 1963

Hooray! After a few weeks away it's the return, all rested and recuperated, of a TV Minus 50 favourite (well, it's one of my favourites anyway, I don't know about you).

"If it isn't trouble from one planet, it's trouble from another," says Space Patrol's Colonel Raeburn in his usual cheerful manner. This week, as the title of this week's episode suggests, the trouble spot is Venus.  The volcanoes in question loom ominously over the planet's capital, Cresta (the frothiest city in the known universe).

Within the halls of Cresta, there's a row going on between an especially eyecatching pair.  Councillor Gallia  is sick of taking orders from Earth, and makes plain his ambitions of seizing power from the current Venusian president.  It's funny, you'd never think to look at him that he was a troublemaker.

Outraged by Gallia's stated intention to oust him, the incumbent president expels him from the Venusian Council.  I'm not sure this chap's much better than his rival to be honest - I think he might have a bit of a God complex. He certainly looks like Him.

Back on Earth, Colonel Raeburn's Venusian secretary Marla has been making a lot of mistakes lately.  "What's wrong with you, Marla?" asks her employee, always a man of great subtlety.  "Are you in love?"  "No, Colonel," she responds, "Venusians do not permit their hearts to rule their heads."  It turns out she's actually worried about a mysterious virus that has gripped the inhabitants of several cities on Venus.  Raeburn calls in Space Patrol's top Venusian astronaut, Slim, for a chat.  Captain Larry Dart suggests Raeburn might want to offer Slim extra leave.  "That is a suggestion of nonsensical import, Captain" Slim replies, proto-Spock that he is.

Raeburn suspects the virus isn't what it seems, and that the wicked mind of Gallia's behind it all.  Slim finds it a bit embarrassing to talk about Gallia, as it turns out the nefarious Peter Wyngarde lookalike is his uncle.  It's just because of this that Raeburn decides to send Slim to visit his errant relative and find out what's going on.

It seems Gallia's built up quite a following of rebel Venusians, but he's cagey about revealing his plans for universal domination to his nephew, who he unsurprisingly suspects of being a spy.  Gallia's dimwitted but spectacularly coiffed henchman is less subtle, accidentally revealing to Slim that Gallia plans to make Venus the ruling planet of the solar system:

"It will take him many years."
"No it won't! His discovery will -"
"What discovery?"
"Nothing... I did not mean it."

In an attempt to discover whether or not Slim's a spy, Gallia tells his servant to reveal all about the discovery.  It turns out to be a special powder that paralyses people for days.  But rather than rush back to Earth with the news when he finds out, Slim pledges his allegiance to Gallia and his plans to make Venus the greatest planet in the galaxy!

Slim resigns from Space Patrol, leaving Raeburn incensed and Dart traumatised (or as close to these states as expressionless puppets can get, anyway).  Raeburn sends Dart and Husky to Venus, accompanied by a substitute Venusian who's very clearly the Slim puppet with a beard stuck on.

On the way there, they find an abandoned freighter full of plastifoam, a substance Venusians use both as ammunition and to make protective domes for their cities on less hospitable planets, and tow it after them.  Excitingly, we find out this week what the oft-mentioned yobba rays actually do: they enable the Galasphere's scanner to see through clouds.  So now we know.

At Gallia's camp, he reveals to his nephew that he plans to stick a load of his powder in a dormant volcano then blow it up, spreading the powder all over Cresta (and possibly burying it under a river of molten lava.  Dart arrives at the camp like a spurned lover, insisting on talking to Slim alone: "I've nothing to say to you!" "I've plenty to say to you!" Dart doesn't believe Slim's really a traitor, but thinks he's up to something.  In which case it seems staggeringly stupid to ask him to confirm those plans in a place where they could easily be ruined by being overheard.  Fortunately, Slim offers to whisper them.

Slim has a pocket bomb which he intends to use to blow up the camp (including Gallia and himself) before his uncle gets a chance to explode the volcano.  Fortunately Gallia didn't overhear:

"Did he want you to return to Earth?"
"Yes.  He is stupid."
"All Earthmen are stupid."

Dart's had a better idea for averting disaster: spraying plastifoam over Cresta to create a protective bubble (gosh, it was a stroke of light finding that freighter, wasn't it?).  Husky sets to working out exactly how this can be done, as Gallia crows interminably (the way these blackhearted villains do) about his forthcoming reign.  There's a brilliant zoom-in here to Slim fiddling about in his pocket.

Fortunately, before Slim can activate the explosive contents of his trousers he notices a message Dart's written for him using the plastifoam.

"30 seconds to go!" announces Dart. "Get your hand on the nozzle, Husky!"  Success!

Gallia and his minions are arrested, and the president awards Slim a medal for bravery.  Dart and the other Venusian, who the president rather brilliantly refers to as "the other Venusian," are granted extra leave by Space Patrol. And Husky gets a plate of food. All is well.

With none of the usual nonsense featuring Professor Haggerty and the Gabblerdictum bird (it's entertaining, but it's definitely nonsense), Space Patrol feels like a quite different show.  I'm sure I'd miss them after a while, but it's nice to have a break.

And now, from the volcanoes of Venus to the ice hockey rinks of...

In his opening monologue this week, Simon Templar muses on sport and national identity: "It's funny how national sports tell so much about the character of the nation. In England it's cricket, and let's kill time with another cup of tea.  In America it's baseball, and let's kill the umpire. In Canada it's ice hockey, and let's kill everybody."

Templar's in Canada to keep an eye on legendarily ruthless businessman Burt Northwade, the richest man in Montreal - and the police, in the form of Inspector Lavin (John Serret) have got their eye on Templar. Northwade's played by David Bauer, something of a go-to actor for North American baddies in shows like this.  His wife Ellen's played by Margo Johns - a name and face that probably won't mean much to many people, but for me she's immortal as one of the stars of the awe-inspiringly ludicrous Herman Cohen production Konga - a film very dear to my heart.

When Northwade's secretary (Warren Stanhope) appears at the rink, the businessman hurriedly leaves.  He's on his way back home to sell "the first cheap, practical gas turbine engine that can power an automobile" to representatives from a car manufacturer for $4 million.

Mrs Northwade tries to discourage her husband from this course of action, reminding him (in the way people in films and TV remind people of things they clearly need no reminding of) that the engine's the invention of his brilliant but poverty-stricken brother, who signed all the rights to it over to Northwade as security for a loan.  When he raises his hand to her Margo Johns gets to respond with a line worthy of her role as Michael Gough's lovelorn housekeeper in Konga: "Go ahead, if you want to.  I deserve it - for living with you."

Northwade's distracted from his marital difficulties when he notices someone snooping about the grounds of his mansion with a pair of binoculars.  A close view reveals it's... Julie Christie! When Judith was filmed in 1962 she was well known as the star of TV's A for Andromeda.  By the time it was broadcast she was on her way to international stardom thanks to her role in Billy Liar, so for viewers in 1963 her casting must have seemed a greater coup than it actually was.

Escaping from the minions Northwade sends after her, Christie bumps her car into that of a passing Simon Templar.  She hurriedly drives off, and Simon finds himself apprehended by Northwade's goons.

Eventually brought before Inspector Lavin, Templar tries to convince him of the innocence of his intentions in visiting Montreal: he's there to visit Chez Marie, an eaterie whose omelettes ("like gossamer skin of gold") Lavin shares his appreciation of.  Unfortunately it's been closed for eight months.

Lavin assigns one of his best men, Sergeant Soustelle, to trail the Saint.  The large, phlegmatic Soustelle is an endearing turn from Ross Parker - but it shows that he's not really an actor.  In fact he was a composer, his works including "We'll Meet Again" and "There'll Always Be an England".

Templar returns to his hotel, where he offers to pay Soustelle's bar tab if the detective leaves him alone to chat up Julie Christie, who he recognises as the woman who pranged him.  Soustelle readily agrees. On learning who Simon is, the young lady reveals she's Judith Northwade, daughter of the millionaire's unfortunate brother, and wants the Saint's help in stealing the plans for the engine, as well as the contract assigning the rights.  They meet for dinner later that evening, Soustelle on hand but perhaps not paying them all that much attention...

Judith's father's in town too, and he strongly disapproves of the plan.  Simon's intrigued, though perhaps more by the girl than her scheme: "It's one of the nicest evenings I've ever had.  I've enjoyed every minute of it... I'm going to enjoy it even more in a minute."

After managing to talk Soustelle into driving him to Northwade's house, Simon confronts the villain, conveniently bursting in just as the helpfully-marked turbine plans are being taken out of the safe.

Simon embarrasses Northwade in front of the potential buyers of the engine by telling them all about the origin of the plans, as well as bringing up a previous business deal in which Northwade's partner committed suicide.  The pair get cold feet and head for their legal team, while Northwade fumes at Simon - who notices a photo of Judith on his desk (crucially, we don't get to see this photo).

There's some splendidly OTT "Fool! Imbecile!" acting from John Serret as he learns Soustelle's let Templar walk all over him - made even funnier by Ross Parker's completely hapless expression.

Soustelle's attempt to step up his game comes to naught when Templar locks him in a wardrobe as he heads off to commit the robbery (Mrs Northwade having popped by with a key to the safe).  Still, it looks like it might not be that much of an ordeal for the portly policeman.

Despite Northwade having his men out in force, Templar manages to get the plans without much difficulty - leaving the businessman to come to terms with his wife's treachery - which she insists was all done out of love.  But, as you've probably guessed, Judith isn't all she seems.

She's a former secretary of the real Dr Northwade (the one Simon met's her partner in crime - and possibly more than crime), who came up with the idea to get hold of the plans after hearing what had happened with them.  Simon's involvement was just a stroke of luck.  But of course, he guessed what was going on as soon as he saw the photo, and an angry Judith (it seems she really is called Judith, coincidentally) is left with an envelope full of blank paper.

Judith heads back to Simon's hotel suite to give him a piece of her mind, but he wants a piece of something else entirely: "Don't be sore, Judith, you're just not cut out for this sort of thing."  "Well, what sort of thing would you say I was cut out for?" But before this goes much further Simon decides to give Judith a chance to escape the police.  He's so self-sacrificing.

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