Thursday, 27 March 2014

Thursday 23 January 1964

Professor Zephyr's picked up what seems to be a message of some kind, emanating from Alpha Centauri.  Spacecraft in 2100 are a long way off being to travel so far, but coincidentally the message comes just as experiments are under way to make ships that can travel up to two million miles an hour.  General Smith has to halt a test flight when a mysterious figure is seen on the launchpad.  It turns out to be Area (well that's what it sounds like, anyway), an inhabitant of the planet Delta in Alpha Centauri who's come to pay a visit to Space Patrol.  Area's extremely odd looking, which is par for the course for Space Patrol aliens.  What's much odder is Colonel Raeburn's astonishment at receiving a visitor from so far away, considering he had someone in from Betelgeuse just the other week.

Area's people (apparently they like to be called "Deltees" rather than Deltans) don't need spacecraft to travel, as they have the power to teleport themselves any distance.  As such, it seems a bit strange that Area should offer to help find a way for the Space Patrol ships to travel faster than light (apparently he's able to fill up tanks with "Delta energy").  Sure enough, with Area's aid rockets are able to travel so fast that they become invisible.

Larry Dart and his crew are assigned to the first manned faster-than-light trip, heading to Delta accompanied by Area.  In contrast to the general excitement, Professor Haggerty pooh-poohs the notion of Galasphere's travelling so fast, insisting the metal they're made from wouldn't be able to take it.  Raeburn dismisses these objections as mere jealousy of Area, and he's not entirely wrong.

We never meet any of the other Deltees Area promises to show his Earth friends off to - instead the Galasphere crew's time on Delta is almost entirely spent lounging around in Area's living room (conveniently, the planet has exactly the same atmosphere as Earth).

When the crew embark aboard ship to take a tour of this strange new world they discover to their horror that Professor Haggerty was right: the unit containing the Delta energy has collapsed under the strain of travelling so fast, and now it'd take centuries to get home.  Just as things look unutterably bleak the episode heads off in the kind of barmy direction we've come to expect of Space Patrol.  In Area's house, Slim notices what looks like the claw of an enormous beast.  Area confirms that this once belonged to a giant Kallaloya lizard (that's the closest approximation I can get to what he says, anyway).  Dart hits on the idea of obtaining another of these claws and carving a new Delta power unit out of it.

Accompanied by Area, Larry embarks on an expedition to Delta's north pole to slay another lizard (note that Area doesn't offer the use of the claw decorating his house).  The beast's appearance is woeful: a pop-eyed crocodile head poking out of a hole.

The creature proves difficult to kill, but eventually Larry shoots it enough times to extinguish any life.  There's a moment of unintentional comedy brilliance as Larry walks up to the creature's limp head (the only visible part of its body) and announces that its claws will do just fine.  It's abundantly obvious that the script proved too ambitious to realise, but that nobody considered this a good enough reason for changing it.

Husky fashions a perfectly serviceable Delta power unit out of the claw, and the Galasphere crew are off on their travels once more.  Will there be further adventures in Alpha Centauri? Well, Professor Haggerty's working on a metal that can withstand light speed travel, so watch this space (Space? You know, space? Oh, never mind).

As always on a Thursday evening it's The Saint next - a show which is always at its best when it's either very serious or very silly.  Tonight's episode, I'm happy to see, falls firmly into the latter camp (and camp is as good a word to describe it as any).

Things start off sensibly enough, with Simon Templar waiting at London airport for the arrival of an old friend (yes, another one).  This is Bill Harvey (David Hedison), accompanied by his wife (the beautiful Suzanne Lloyd, whose character is stuck with the decidedly unglamorous name of Doris).

Bill's come to manage the new London branch of the bank he works for - but he's far less interested in finding a place to live than he is in painting the town red, with Simon as his guide.  So he's less than distraught when Doris is almost immediately called to the side of her pregnant sister in Paris.  The hotel's head porter, who aids Bill in seeing his wife off in style, is played by John Woodnutt, later to become one of Doctor Who's most prolific guest performers.

Simon accompanies the Harveys to the airport, his facial expression when Bill promises to be good in Doris's absence the first hint of the out-and-out lunacy to come.

Further evidence of the episode's especially wacky tone can be seen when Simon (under instruction from Doris) drags Bill to the trooping of the colour.   Simon, for some reason, is dressed in full city gent regalia, and whispers in Bill's ear the name of the beautiful young woman he's getting excited about: "Oh yeah? Well why isn't she wearing a crown?" (it's Princess Margaret, if you didn't get it).

As well as being hugely entertaining in its own right, Luella's notable for foreshadowing Roger Moore's future career in a number of remarkable ways.  His double act with David Hedison (sardonic Brit and excitable Yank) is almost a premonition of his teaming with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders!, while Hedison himself would later play Felix Leiter to Moore's James Bond.  The fun continues with Bill eventually persuading Simon to take him out on the town, where he promptly wins £3500 at a roulette wheel, and decides to go have the wildest night out ever.

Picturesque chaos ensues, culminating in Bill accidentally throwing ice cream on to the chest of an uncredited actress, and then attempting to spoon it out.

The following day sees a chastened Bill nursing an enormous hangover.  In his jaded state he's unable to put up much resistance to the alluring Luella (Sue Lloyd, no relation of Suzanne), who he meets in the hotel bar.  Luella drops into conversation that she has a flat she's been desperately trying to rent out.  Remarkably enough it sounds just like what Bill's supposed to have been looking for, so he agrees to accompany her there.

Having had a few hairs of the dog, Bill proves to be putty in Luella's hands...

...but just as they snog, out pops the enraged Matt Joyson (Aiden Turner), Luella's husband, accompanied by a camera-wielding private detective.  Matt claims to have been seeking evidence of his wife fooling around for ages - and plans to enlist Bill as co-respondent in his divorce case.  But Bill, for whose marriage and career this would be a disaster, convinces Joyson, in exchange for the remaining £2000 of his win, to wait until he finds Luella with another fella.

When Bill returns to his hotel, he's horrified to witness the arrival of Doris, back from Paris early.  He enlists the aid of a bellboy (played by a very young Julian Holloway) to keep her distracted.

But before long, she finds a handkerchief embroidered with the name "Luella" in Bill's jacket pocket, and he falls victim to her impressive right hook.

Bedroom farce is new territory for The Saint, but it's all tremendous fun, with Lloyd and Hedison a hugely likeable pair of leads (below we see them enacting the classic "blocking the wrong exit" gag).  Roger Moore, for his part, seems fabulously bemused at becoming a supporting character in a domestic sitcom.

Simon does, eventually, get something to do, though: convinced that Bill's fallen victim to a scam, he determines to bring Luella and her accomplices to justice.  He's right, of course: Bill was fingered as ideal prey for the Joysons by their crony, the hotel's head porter.  We visit the couple in their flat, congratulating themselves on hooking Bill so perfectly.  Matt concedes that Luella's performance was "much better than anything you ever did in repertory", but pours cold water on his wife's dreams of fame: "You might have been a lot of things.  A great star is not one of them."

Simon enlists the aid of horsey Miss Hill (Jean St Clair), concierge at the Joysons' block of flats, by whispering who he is in her ear - whoever it is, it's seemingly someone affiliated with MI5 (Luella, he confides, is "one of them")...

Simon's next step is to disguise himself as an American millionaire (something he does on quite a regular basis), in the hope of hooking Luella by making her think she's hooking him.  It works, of course...

...and before long "Samuel P Taggart" is accompanying Luella to view the flat that would be so perfect for his family.  But this time, at the exact moment that Joyson leaps out, Doris (posing as Mrs Taggart), does too.  Realising the jig is up, the Joysons prepare to clear out, only to fall foul of Simon's prowess with fisticuffs (actually Luella ends up accidentally knocked out by her own henchman).

All ends happily, with Luella and Matt brought to justice and Doris and Bill preparing to move into the flat they've vacated.  It's all thanks to Miss Hill, who, it turns out, has been under the impression that she's been aiding James Bond.  Although that's not the case just yet, it looks like Simon's real identity isn't a disappointment (yes, that halo really can be seen by others).

Gloriously silly stuff.   Part of me wishes The Saint was like this every week, and part of me's glad, for the sake of my sanity, that it's not.

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