Thursday, 7 November 2013

Thursday 7 November 1963

The Planet of Thought is an especially delirious instalment of the Space Patrol's adventures which throws the spotlight, for once, on Venusian wonder-PA Marla.  Though unfortunately it's key to the plot that she doesn't actually have very much to do.

Colonel Raeburn is preparing for a visit from Tyro, ruler of Neptune, to discuss terms for the Neptunians' entry into the United Galactic Organisation (they've tentatively agreed to free their workforce of human slaves in exchange for robots).  The shot of the wraithlike alien gliding down a corridor on his way to the meeting is truly eerie stuff.

When he meets up with Raeburn, though, things switch from eerie to plain odd, as Tyro becomes unexpectedly infatuated with Marla: "What an exquisite creature!" (an extra edge of camp is added to all this by the fact that Tyro speaks in a high-pitched female voice.

Pretty soon Tyro forgets all about joining forces with other planets and uses his hypnotic powers to entice Marla into his spaceship and whisk her off to Neptune.

Not that there's any funny business in the offing: Tyro just wants to dress Marla up like a toilet roll cosy, plonk her in a throne and look at her all day (well, actually, I suppose that is pretty funny business).

Raeburn, incensed by Tyro's challenge that he'll only give Marla back if she can be made to say she wants to leave Neptune, sets Larry Dart the mission of going to get her.  But he'll need some way of blocking the Neptunian thought waves.  Luckily, Professor Haggerty's been working on a thought protector that's just the very thing.

Handily, he's got a couple of portable ones for Dart to take with him.  Unfortunately they look very silly indeed.

There's a bit of a goof as the Galasphere prepares for its journey to Neptune: the same recycled footage as usual is used for its takeoff procedure: including Marla's voiceover!  Four months later, when it finally arrives, Dart finds a Marla seemingly hostile toward him.  "Don't come near me!" she cries.  "Women can be very difficult," sniggers Tyro, whose pronounced misogyny is clearly an attempt at compensating for his voice.

Tyro provides Dart with a slap-up meal.  He plans to remove Dart's headset while he has an after dinner nap, but unfortunately he falls asleep himself.

Dart manages to get the thought protector on Marla thanks to the work of Slim and Husky, who've managed to conceal the mechanism in a pair of huge earrings, which Tyro agrees would look lovely on her.

Freed from Tyro's influence, Marla makes it very clear she doesn't want to be on Neptune with the immortal line "I'm not a Neptunian princess, I'm a Venusian secretary!" When Tyro proves reluctant to let her go she tries a different tack: "Neptunians are scientifically advanced, yet you treat women in a most old-fashioned way.  I shall stay here and start a Neptunian suffragette movement."  The thought of female emancipation proves too much for Tyro - and, bizarrely enough, the episode ends with the three of them having a good old laugh about the situation.

Next tonight we learn, somewhat unexpectedly, that Simon Templar considers himself something of an expert on modern drama, as he holds forth to us on how absolutely dreadful a play shortly to open in the West End is going to be.

The money to put this abomination on the stage comes from Rick Lansing (David Bauer, last seen as another ruthless businessman in this show just a few weeks back): it's one of a series of plays he's backed as vehicles for his actress wife Iris (The Plane Makers' Barbara Murray).  Ferdy Mayne plays the production's arrogant director, Stratford Keen, less than impressed with Lansing's withering judgement.

Iris meanwhile, shows her gratitude for her husband's generosity by conducting an affair with the play's leading man, Mark Belden (John Ronane).

Simon's drawn into the orbit of this frightful lot thanks to his girlfriend of the week Mary Hardy (April Wilding - Pauline Collins' co-star in that fascinating slice of Great British trash cinema Secrets of a Windmill Girl), who's also acting in the play.  Coincidentally her father (Cyril Luckham) is a former business partner of Lansing's who considers him to be an outright crook.

And he's not wrong: Lansing runs a protection racket targeting the shopkeepers of London town - and trouble's looming on the horizon after he and his henchmen (Barry Linehan and Larry Taylor) start a fire in the shop of a newsagent who refuses to pay them (Meadows White), causing the old man to have a fatal heart attack.

Lansing now finds himself the target of phone calls from a blackmailer who knows all about the incident - and who sounds suspiciously like Simon Templar.  A punch-up between Simon and the heavies ensues, though he's finally able to convince Lansing that someone was imitating his voice.

As Templar and Lansing uneasily decide to work together to unmask the blackmailer, Jack Hardy finds himself the latest target, thanks to some dodgy documents he'd previously produced for Lansing (in good faith).

To catch the blackmailer in the act Simon works together with his old nemesis Inspector Claude Eustace Teal of the Yard (after a succession of other actors appearing in the role Ivor Dean would now take it over permanently), staking out the impersonator's choice of drop-off point for the money, Battersea fun fair (which it's great to see).

The blackmailer proves elusive, but Simon's worked out who it is anyway, and the final confrontation takes place during rehearsal as he reveals Iris and her boyfriend as the culprits.  Barbara Murray (always a rather camp figure) goes to town as she spits out the truth of how much she loathes her crook of a husband.  Simon only just prevents this from being the last fit of pique of her life.

Solidly written by Bill ("Zarbi")Strutton and directed by John Gilling (the man at the helm some of Hammer's most interesting horror movies), and decently acted by all concerned (though Roger Moore's talking in a peculiar mid-Atlantic accent at this stage, possibly in an attempt to help overseas sales), Iris is a more than usually involving Saint episode.  It is, however, chiefly notable for two things.  One of these is the succession of peculiar hats Barbara Murray sports throughout...

...and the other is the screen debut of an uncredited  but instantly recognisable 19-year old Margaret Nolan, later to achieve cult fame thanks to her appearances in Goldfinger and the Carry On films, as Lansing's secretary.  It's a small role, but she's certainly not easy to miss.

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