Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thursday 2 January 1964

Happy New Year! Yes, TV Minus 50 has finally staggered into 1964.  As the initial purpose of this blog is disappearing further from view due to my frequent delays in posting here, I think it's best just to crack on.

- "Captain Dart and his men are in orbit around Uranus"

-"How does Uranus look, Husky?"

-"I keep thinking about that light Husky said he saw on Uranus"

-"There's nothing on Uranus.  Nothing!"

Yes, tonight's episode of Space Patrol brings us once more to the seventh planet of the solar system.  And I thought I'd get the most sniggery lines out of the way first, as this is a deadly serious episode.  Sort of.  It's Space Patrol's own characteristically strange take on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers motif.

As Galasphere 347 orbits Uranus, crewman Husky's convinced he sees a light glowing on the supposedly uninhabited world.  His crewmates scoff, but it turns out he's quite right...

Viewers who've been following Space Patrol's various ongoing plotlines may remember the discovery of walking, telepathic plants native to Uranus.  Well, this week it emerges that the previously only-just sentient vegetable beings have recently undergone a massive and mysterious increase in intelligence (it's the second episode in a row to feature a species who've experienced a huge evolutionary leap, oddly enough): they've now built a spaceship and their embiggened brains are set on the one goal of all good malicious extra-terrestrials - the invasion of Earth.

The people of that ever-desirable planet are oblivious of the impending arrival of their would-be conquerers.  Professor Haggerty's busy irritating Colonel Raeburn with the unpleasant-looking products of his recent fruit-combining experiments.  There's the pinepear, the grapegoose and the plunge.  All likely to be coming to a Waitrose near you soon.  A hurtful remark by the colonel about the Professor's receding hairline sets him on the path of creating a machine to make it grow back.

During all these hi-jinks, the Uranians have been piloting their ship toward Earth.  They now call themselves the Duos, seemingly due to their ability to split their minds from their bodies.  Their master plan is to hide their craft and conquer the planet by using their mental forms (which look like wisps of cotton wool) to possess human beings.

As there are only about five of them, it's important to pick the right human beings to possess.  Scientific genius Haggerty, the man most likely to prevent their invasion, is their prime target.  But while they manage to take over his daughter Cassiopeia, the Duo attempting to enslave the professor has his mind electrocuted by Haggerty's elaborate hair-restoring machine.

The main hallmark of people who've been possessed by a duo is increased surliness.  Slim and Husky are very rude to Husky's Gabblerdictum bird when they get their minds taken over, the possessed Raeburn insists on calling a startled Marla stupid, and Larry Dart, possessed while Haggerty explains what's going on to him, responds with a curt "Oh, I can't be bothered with such nonsense."

What can be done to save the Earth from the Duos, and more importantly, an epidemic of bad temper? Well, the only thing that can destroy their mental forms is electricity.  The gooey effect of a Duo's body melting when its mind gets fried is brilliantly done.

Haggerty manages to ruin the plans to welcome the Duos to Earth (all the possessed characters are very keen on welcoming their masters - I'm not sure what this would consist of: possibly a finger (or tendril) buffet would be involved) by shooting everyone with a gun that gives them an electric shock.

The one Duo left alive after this massacre makes his escape, but is tracked down by the gallant crew of Galasphere 347, who send his ship up in flames, and quite possibly commit genocide in the process.  Still, they started it.

And now on ITV...

This week's Saint is a tremendously fun romp with a top-drawer guest cast.  It's set in the fictional Middle Eastern state of Sayeda, where Brits John McAndrew and Harry Shannet (Jack Lambert and Alfred Burke) have struck oil.  McAndrew's working together with Sayeda's ruler (Ferdy Mayne, in another of those Arabic parts he was given on a mysteriously regular basis) and his annoying teenage son Prince Karim (Louis Raynor) on plans for using the wealth oil will bring to improve life for the people of Sayeda.

These plans are interrupted by the arrival of rebel leader Abdul Aziz (Alec Mango) and his troops, who swiftly shoot down both McAndrew and the Emir: Prince Karim escapes, injured.  Aziz assumes leadership of Sayeda, with the slimy Shannet  at his side.  It looks like the wellbeing of the common man may not be a prime concern of theirs.  Military chief Major Hussein (Patrick Westwood) seems reluctant to carry out their orders to find and kill the prince, though.

Elsewhere, Noel Purcell gives his usual turn as an excitable Irishman with a gargantuan beard, called, in case the performance wasn't clue enough to his Celtic origin, Mike Kelly (it's actually a fairly subdued performance for Purcell).  An employee of the oilmen, he's shocked to learn of the events at the palace from local trader Ahmed (Fireball XL5 and Dalek voice artist David Graham).  But only a few moments later he finds himself tended to the wounded prince (despite the Emir earlier voicing his concerns about the Westernisation of Sayeda, it appears it's already made it as far as his son's hairdo).

In case you're wondering where Simon Templar fits into all this, his girlfriend of the week (Suzanna Leigh) is the daughter of the late Mr McAndrew, and he accompanies her to Sayeda to help avenge her father's death.

They meet up with Kelly and the Prince at the guesthouse of Kelly's old friend Mrs McAlister (Renee Houston).  She certainly knows how to deal with all this Middle Eastern angst.  As the prince swears to Lilla McAndrew that "The death of our two fathers shall be avenged! I shall fight, and I shall raise an army!" in sweeps the merry Scottish widow: "Have a nice cup of tea first!"

Like a lot of this episode's cast, the actor playing Mrs McAlister's sinister servant Habib is uncredited, but I think it might be Henry Soskin/Lincoln (see my ramblings on The Avengers' Death a la Carte for more information).  Anyway, he's a bad penny who reveals the whereabouts of the Prince to an even worse penny (John Bennett - this episode is teeming with Caucasian actors who made a living from being vaguely "foreign" looking).

Bennett and his men invade the guesthouse but are beaten off (not like that) in the customary mid-episode fight scene.  It's an especially vicious one this week, with Simon booting some poor sod right in the face.

This excitement over with, Simon puts into action his plan to restore Prince Karim to power.  It involves him going undercover as gloriously supercilious oil buyer J Pierpoint-Sykes.  Roger Moore clearly has a whale of a time in this somewhat queeny persona: "They always manage to discover oil in the most uncomfortable places."  He conveys even more discomfort as he reluctantly chomps on a sheep's eye (which looks more like a mini marshmallow than anything else).

When he's not being Pierpoint-Sykes, Simon's either busying himself in the persona of a rabble-rouser predicting the imminent return of Prince Karim with a vast army...

...or marshalling that army, consisting of the prince, Kelly, Lilla McAndrew and Mrs McAlister, himself (it's rather wonderful seeing Renee Houston in Cathy Gale mode).  They're attempting to convince Aziz's forces there's a lot more of them by throwing fireworks and making lots of loud noises.

And as all the troops seem to be just as useless as the one played (uncredited) by David Graham's fellow Fireball XL5 voice John Bluthal, it appears they may well succeed.

Simon's masquerade is exposed when John Bennett's character turns up, and he's flung in prison, but he soon gets the better of the guard played by Frank Olegario, whose wild overacting makes it a huge shame that he, too, is uncredited.

The same can't be said of this listless pair of extras (are these really supposed to be Arabs?) who Simon shares his cell with.

All ends well when it turns out that Major Hussein's still loyal to the prince, and happily guns down the country's new prime minister.  So that's that.

The prince gets his throne back, Kelly gets a job as minister of the interior, and Lilla gets half the oil money.  But will Mrs McAlister get her man...

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