Saturday, 15 March 2014

Thursday 16 January 1964

Sadly I've little to say about The Buried Spaceship beyond observing that it's unusually dull for a Space Patrol episode.  No barmy inventions or bizarre alien species this week: just a spaceship, getting buried.  And then freeing itself.

It all starts with a drought on Mars, and Professor Haggerty's efforts to relieve it.  "I may be a genius, but I'm not a magician!" he cries, pre-empting a popular TV doctor.  He's been brought to the end of his tether by Colonel Raeburn taking his joke about exporting Ireland's climate to Mars as a genuine statement of intent.  One thing that might be possible is to ferry some water from Venus (the wettest planet in the solar system) to Mars.  Marla suggests the easiest way to transport it would be to freeze it.  "You're not only beautiful Marla, you're brainy!" the Colonel gasps.  She's also easily pleased: "A compliment from Colonel Raeburn.  How extraordinarily delightful!"

Resident pest Gabbler is doing his best to hinder the professor's research.  Though in a very roundabout way he inspires Haggerty's eventual solution to the drought.  Using the lab's supply of sugar cubes to construct a house, he reminds the professor of Pluto, the only planet where people still use bricks - made out of ice.  Haggerty hits on the idea of sending Plutonian ice blocks to Mars.

The crew of Galasphere 347 head to Pluto to supervise the first ice freight, but the ice is being cut in the area where they land, and the ship plunges through the planet's surface.

500 yards beneath the surface of Pluto, how will the ship get out? The Buried Spaceship suffers from being scheduled directly after last week's The Talking Bell, which featured Larry Dart trapped underground, but also had a talking bell in it.  The Buried Spaceship doesn't, and feels decidedly lacklustre in comparison.  The ship's eventually freed, but I can barely remember how.  Probably the most enjoyable part of the episode is Slim's line as the Galasphere turbulently rises: "I'm being tossed so much I feel like a pancake!"

Tonight's episode of The Saint also starts off in rather dull fashion.  We may be in far-off Buenos Aires, but the establishing shots seem more interested in such prosaic matters as roundabouts than anything else.

Well, they're prosaic to us sophisticates of the early 21st century, anyway.  In 1962 (when this episode was made - it took a while to get to the screen), a roundabout was a stirring symbol of modernity (well, it might have been to some people) - and the focus on space-age roadways sells Buenos Aires to us as a thrilling, go-ahead sort of city.  It's in a thrillingly modern underpass that a pair of security van drivers come a cropper, gassed to death by a pair of crooks (one of them's gap-toothed Larry Taylor, the most ubiquitous of all ITC heavies) who drive off with a vanful of gold.

Meanwhile, at one of the city's bright, gay hotels (this episode has a feel of being funded by the Buenos Aires tourist board, though of course it's mainly filmed in Hertfordshire), American widow Beryl Carrington (Ann Gillis) - her late husband owned the premier umbrella factory in the Americas - makes a stop on the world tour she never got to do while her husband was alive.  The episode's particularly manic comic relief is provided by Victor Spinetti as a harassed commissionaire.

It's not long before Beryl's being romanced by one of the locals, Ramon (pronounced "Raymond") Venino (It's Dark Outside's John Carson).  He takes her on several romantic outings, but wherever they go they're followed by a pair of sinister men - the same ones we saw committing the robbery earlier on, in fact.

Just as their romance is hotting up, Ramon announces he can never see Beryl again: the men who follow him have made him fear for her safety.  Initially reluctant to tell her why he's being trailed, he eventually announces that he's an anti-fascist, the leader of an organisation preparing to fight a predicted resurgence in the country's far right: which includes the men who are following him.

Eventually Beryl tracks Ramon down in a seedy rented room where he's hiding out from his pursuers.  She pledges her assistance in his fight, and he entrusts her with a case which he claims contains information on all the men in his organisation: he wants to get it out of the country, which Beryl valiantly offers to do.  In the meantime, she lends Ramon her car - if he doesn't bring it back that evening she's to burn the contents of the case.

Fearing for the man who's made her feel alive for the first time in years, Beryl goes against Ramon's instructions and tells Simon Templar (conveniently staying at the same hotel) all about what's happened.  His investigation starts with him obtaining a recap of Argentina's recent history from the hotel's manager (Michael Rittermann), for the benefit of viewers whose knowledge of the country is limited to it being the source of the UK's corned beef supplies.  It seems Ramon was considerably exaggerating the threat of fascists returning to power.

As is always the case, Simon's set upon half way through the episode by the thugs, who dangle him out of a window.  But he soon manages to turn the tables (or, more accurately, the bed) on them.

Simon heads to the room Ramon was renting, only to find he's cleared out.  The landlady (gargantuan Madge Brindley, one of British film and TV's most distinctive bit part players) reveals that his rent was paid by "the big man" at the garage opposite.

Said big man (Christopher Rhodes, who aristocracy fans may like to note was a baronet) immediately lays Simon out, and with the Saint in a vulnerable position Ramon appears, revealing himself as the mastermind of a criminal gang with sinister plans for poor, trusting Mrs Carrington.

This week's irascible police chief is played by Patrick Troughton, who doesn't get nearly enough screen time.  Alan Browning is his second in command.  As he sets out on Ramon's trail...

...Simon avails himself of the fact that his guard (Joby Blanshard) is a nervous wreck in order to secure his freedom.

Simon arrives at the hotel just as Ramon's talking Beryl into travelling to Europe with him, by car.  The Saint reveals to the initially disbelieving widow that while Ramon had her car he replaced the bumper with one made out of the stolen gold, which he was using her to get out of the country.  She's not best pleased.

But, with the final capture of Ramon and his gang, Inspector Troughton certainly is.

And we end in particularly downbeat fashion with Beryl contemplating her future as a lovelorn romantic matron falling for any slimy gigolo who pays her the slightest attention.

The Romantic Matron is utterly predictable throughout, but it's none the worse for that.  In fact, with its excellent cast and genuinely interesting setting it's one of the very best Saint episodes I've featured here so far - even though the decidedly mid-Atlantic accent affected by Roger Moore at this point in the show's production is both weird and aggravating.

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