Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thursday 19 December 1963

This week, Larry Dart and his crew go, boldly, where no puppet has gone before (except the Fireball XL5 crew): to a world inhabited by giants.

But to begin with, as the Galasphere crew prepare to go into the freezer for six months for the journey to Earth from Pluto, we once again find ourselves wondering just how much time this series has covered already.  What with all these adventures each taking place over the space of months, you'd think the characters left on Earth would be getting on a bit by now.  Anyway, Colonel Raeburn and Marla seem hale and hearty as ever, desperately trying to get the Galasphere back on course using their zurgon rays as the ship strays dangerously off-course, heading deep into space and into the path of a comet.

Raeburn has his fingers crossed for the crew's safety.  Marla demonstrates the Venusian equivalent, crossing one's wrists.

The comet just grazes the ship, causing the crew to wake up, as well as enough damage for them to need to land so Husky can fix it.  But as they head back to Pluto, they're astonished to see (as the episode's title suggests) a new, never-before-seen planet!  "If this new planet is past Pluto, it must be even further from the sun," remarks Husky, sharp as ever.

Despite being so far from the sun, the planet's covered in vegetation, as the astronauts discover when they land.  And the plants are enormous - Slim manages to trip over a giant strawberry.

Shortly they meet one of this world's inhabitants: a massive beardy man who, luckily, is able to speak English -it's thanks to some other Space Patrollers who lost their way and landed on the planet some years before.

Dart escapes back to the Galasphere, but the giant, determined to have these creatures as his pets, simply heaves the ship over his shoulder and takes it back to his house.

Dart calls Raeburn to appraise him of the situation.  The Colonel's a bit sceptical: "A planet of giants? What's the matter with you, Dart? Have you changed your name to Hans Andersen?"

The giant stores the ship in a big box, but our heroes manage to escape (the sight of the Galasphere flying out of the box and around the room is utterly bizarre).  The giant runs after it, but as he'd known if he'd ever read Jack and the Beanstalk, he's got no chance.  Shame really, he seemed like a nice fella, if a bit too hearty.

Rather than the usual handy caption letting us know where we are in the world, tonight's episode of The Saint shows us what's on in the West End.

Simon Templar's there, waiting for his ladyfriend of the week, actress Jean Yarmouth, as she auditions.  While waiting, he gives us his (uncomplimentary) thoughts on confidence tricksters (this may prove important later on).

The scene changes now to the sleepy village of Netherdon, whose vicar (John Glyn-Jones) is going away for a couple of days, leaving the decaying church in the charge of his secretary Sophie Yarmouth (Jean's mother, played by the incomparably twittery Mary Merrall - it's strange to think that 50 years ago Jean was a young woman's name and Sophie an old woman's).

It's not long before Sophie's approached by an American woman (Louise King), claiming to represent a charitable foundation who want to give the church the remaining money it needs for its restoration fund.  She's a con artist of course, and even daffy Mrs Yarmouth cottons on to that when she insists on seeing the money raised so far in cash before she'll contribute any more.

But the scammer's been chased from the US by a detective (Peter Dyneley) who teams up with the local constabulary's dim-witted representative (Victor Platt) to bring her to justice by talking Mrs Yarmouth into drawing out the money as requested.  Just as she secretes it in her false-bottomed suitcase they swoop.

The American detective escorts his prey off the premises (with the money, which he insists is key evidence) - and then locks the door so Mrs Yarmouth and PC Charlie (as in, A Right) are trapped inside.  Detective and con artist drive off together - they're a married couple, real names Richard and Joyce Eade, and having relieved Netherton of £6000 are off to spend it on the Riviera.  Peter Dyneley's brilliantly cast here - a British actor regularly cast as Americans, he discards his tough guy Yank accent for a suave English one the moment he leaves his bewildered victims behind.

Salvation is coming for Mrs Yarmouth, though, in the shape of her daughter (beauiful Justine Lord) and her beau.  Simon determines to track down the crooks.  His first step is to flirt heavily with postmistress Miss Emma (Marie Makino) until she reveals the pair put in a phonecall to AirFrance regarding their trip.

In France, Simon gains the co-operation of the local police (represented by Arnold Diamond, Sergeant Cork's boss), Jean's charms helping considerably in winning them round.  But Simon doesn't want their interference - he plans to beat the con artists at their own game.

Checking into the same hotel as the Eades, Simon attracts their attention by posing as carefree Texan billionaire Hiram S Tooms (his accent may be a bit strange - and considering every episode begins with someone telling Simon how famous he is it's surprising he can go incognito so easily - but Roger Moore's clearly having a marvellous time).  Although they're meant to be having a holiday from their criminal pursuits the pair decide this is a mark too good to pass up.

Joyce poses as a ghastly rich bitch sporting an emerald ring Richard tells Hiram is worth far more than she imagines, and Richard suggests he try and buy it as a gift for his ditsy French girlfriend (Jean).

Eventually the Eades are caught by Simon and a local gendarme (John Standing), but on the agreement they'll give back the church's money as well as providing the rest needed to restore the church they're allowed to go.

The gendarme, you see, is really an English actor friend of Jean's.  It's really astonishing how handsome the young John Standing is.

The Eades are left with the terrifying prospect of having to find gainful employment.  They'll manage though - they've got each other.  The trickster's are such a likeable pair that they deserved their own spin-off series (that's the second time I've said that about a character played by Peter Dyneley - he was a very charismatic actor).

Back in Netherton, Sophie Yarmouth's clearly got her eye on Simon as a prospective son-in-law.  I wouldn't get too excited, love, your daughter'll be entirely forgotten about by next week.

The Bunco Artists is a treat - easily the most enjoyable episode of The Saint so far.  Strangely, the show's at its best with both episodes like this where it really lets its hair down and those like The Saint Plays with Fire where it aims at being more than usually serious.  The great mass in the middle are just a bit dull.  Mind you, both the above-mentioned episodes guest star Justine Lord, which is always a great help.

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