Monday, 23 February 2015

20-26 February 1965

Saturday 20 February

Hello again.  This evening's viewing on BBC 1 begins, as ever, with Juke Box Jury.  Lulu, Roy Orbison and the NME's Chris Hutchins are all perfectly natural choices to debate the merits of new single releases, Marjorie Proops being this week's off-beam choice of panel member.  Talking of off-beam, tonight's episode of Doctor Who builds on the strangeness of last week's to provide easily the most downright bizarre 25 minutes the show's yet given us.

Last week's breathtaking cliffhanger saw Ian incapacitated beneath a giant web, Barbara - controlled by a mysterious force - walking straight towards a pool of acid, Vicki trapped in a TARDIS gone haywire, and the Doctor discovering to his horror that the ship had vanished.

It's Barbara's thread we pick up first: she's steered away from the deadly pool by a swarm of those noisy giant ants from last week.  The episode's title comes to the aid of anyone who hasn't yet worked out what they're called.

Elsewhere, the Doctor comes to Ian's aid, the webbing that trapped him having now disappeared.  "My face! What's the matter with it?" Ian exclaims, having been left with mild burns.  Sadly the Doctor doesn't venture a critique, but simply tells him that as the TARDIS has vanished he can't get him any medical aid.

Barbara continues to be drawn onward by the force that's got hold of her bracelet (shot from below for extra eeriness), and it turns out the Zarbi aren't the only inhabitants of this planet: she's being watched by a curious bee person.

The whole thing's remakably experimental for something going out at 5.25 on a Saturday evening, and you have to applaud the ambition behind it, utterly bonkers as it all is.  Williams Hartnell and Russell are now called on to do "gasping for breath" acting as their ADJs pack up and they take them off to get used to the atmosphere.  The Doctor draws Ian's attention to strange ridges where the TARDIS appears to have been moved.  "Been dragged away.  Dragged away," says Ian, delivering his lines with an aggression more suited to a Wednesday Play.

And we now get to see the TARDIS careering across the studio floor, presumably pulled by the same force that's got hold of Barbara.  Inside, poor Vicki's still being tossed about, and the scanner's showing images of those troublesome Zarbi.

Three bee people now surround Barbara: these are Vrestin (Roslyn De Winter), Hrostar (Arne Gordon) and Hrhoonda (Arthur Blake) - De Winter is the mime expert who choreographed both these and the Zarbi in an attempt to create an insect-like and otherworldly kind of movement.  She certainly succeeded in coming up with something very strange.  The creatures remove the bracelet from Barbara's wrist and throw it in the acid, freeing her from the unseen force.

As the Doctor and Ian continue to explore, Ian inadvertently plonks his foot in what looks like some kind of chrysalis.  The Doctor recognises it as a trace of beings known as the Menoptra, who hail from the planet Vortis.  Never mind struggling to breathe, Hartnell's having enough of a struggle remembering his dialogue as the Doctor shares his knowledge about the planet which, on a prompt from  William Russell, he remembers is in the Isop galaxy, "Many light Earths - light years from Earth" (the subtitles on the DVD of this story are very charitable to Hartnell, changing his fluff to "very like Earth", even though everyone involved with the production's expended great effort to create the effect that isn't).  "And yet, the Vortis hasn't a moon," he ponders, gazing at the various satellites in the sky above.

The TARDIS continues on its journey, comically waddling about.

Barbara tells her story to her rescuers (who we assume are the Menoptra the Doctor was talking about).  They're in conflict over what to do with her.

The Doctor and Ian find themselves surrounded by the Zarbi and their bizarre accomplice (which the Menoptra refer to as a "larvae gun") and are marched off.  The strange electronic sounds made by the Zarbi are almost constant on the soundtrack of this week's episode, eventually becoming a struggle to sit through (my other half's told me off for watching this as they do his head in so much).

The TARDIS having come to a stop, Vicki exits, finding herself inside a strange, brain-like structure.  It's not long before she too has Zarbi coming at her.

One of the creatures peeks through the open doors of the TARDIS, but is suddenly repelled and sent spinning all over the set.

Vicki's shortly joined by the Doctor and Ian.

Barbara too is attacked by Zarbi, who place a strange metal harness round her neck to control her.

The Menoptra have a sort of crystal radio set that they're dithering over using to get reinforcements, as it might lead the Zarbi to where they are.  Eventually they do - the bizarrely-accented Vrestin warns somebody of "the power of the Animoose", but shortly afterwards the Zarbi appear with the zombified Barbara and they have to smash up the radio and fight the creatures.  Hrhoonda is killed by a Larvae gun, Vrestin escapes, and Hrostar's held captive with Barbara.

Hrostar removes Barbara's harness to free her from the Zarbi's power.  Like her bracelet it's made of gold, which the Zarbi are able to use to "morphotise" people.  Hrostar explains that they'll be taken to the "crater of needles" and put to work of some kind.  Rather harrowingly, the Zarbi shred his wings to prevent him escaping (to be honest, the idea of it's more harrowing than the actual sight of a man in a bee costume being pecked at by two men in ant costumes).

Meanwhile, the Doctor appears to be playing charades with the Zarbi in a bid to communicate with them.  It's not very successful.

Then suddenly, a strange, cobwebbed device descends over the Doctor's head, and a spooky voice (Catherine Fleming) asks "Whyyy dooo yooou come nooow?"

I'm struggling to find words to express just how peculiar this Doctor Who adventure is, though as there's another four weeks of it they've plenty of time to come to me.  I'd guess that most people reading this have seen it already, but if you haven't I really think you should.  You may not find it the most enjoyable experience, but it's certainly like none other you've ever had.

Moving on: Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock first played Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson last year in an adaptation of "The Speckled Band" for the BBC anthology series Detective, and now they've got a full series of their own (it's actually the second series to spin off from Detective - the first, based on R Austin-Freeman's Dr Thorndyke stories, had a short run a few months before and gave perpetual supporting player Peter Copley the lead role for once).

And where else should the series begin but a Turkish bath, where Holmes receives an urgent telegram from top diplomat Sir James Damery.

Holmes: He wants to see me.
Watson: Here?
Holmes: I think not, Watson.

Instead, Holmes receives Sir James (Ballard Berkeley) in his rooms at Baker Street.  He wishes to enlist Holmes' aid against perhaps the most dangerous man in Europe.  Holmes has heard that one before, and he and Watson refer to Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian Moran as previous foes who could merit that title.  This may seem an odd move, precluding the series from adapting "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House" for the screen, but in fact those stories (along with "A Scandal in Bohemia", another notable omission from the stories chosen for the series) had been optioned for filming in the States, meaning they were unavailable anyway.

But I digress.  The man Sir James has in mind is a nefarious Austrian who got away with murdering his wife two years before.  Holmes, having heard of him, is sure she's not his only victim.

Sir James believes Gruner (who, as well as being an expert on Chinese porcelain, "collects books and pictures... and women") plans to carry out another crime with impunity, and has come to Holmes an behalf of an extremely prestigious client who wishes to remain unknown ("I am accustomed to having a mystery at one end of the case, but to have it at both ends is too confusing," Holmes tells him, in Wildean fashion).  Violet de Merville, daughter of the much-decorated General de Merville, and much favoured by Sir James' client, has fallen head over heels for Gruner's considerable charm, and plans to marry him in spite of all warnings.  Holmes is engaged to persuade her otherwise, in any way possible.  Holmes decides to "start with the very lowest circles" and explore Gruner's underworld connections.

To that end, he and Watson visit an insalubrious music hall to see a crook named Shinwell Johnson.  There we're treated to a full-bodied Marie Lloyd routine by Anne Hart (better known these days as Mrs Ronnie Corbett).  As an aside, her performance of "G'arn away" proves a nightmare for whoever did the subtitles on the show's US DVD release, and who's comprehensively defeated by the song's torrent of Cockney slang (looking the lyrics up wouldn't have been that difficult, surely?).  Especially hilarious is the admittedly obscure "Strike me up a mulberry" transmuting into "Strike me up with Aldridge", which raises all sorts of questions.

Anyway, if I keep digressing like this I'll never get this post finished.  Norman Mitchell plays Shinwell Johnson, who clams up when asked about Gruner.

The singer's moved on to "My Old Man" now.  Among the audience is Rosemary Leach as an especially unenthusiastic sex worker.

The scene changes to the home of Baron Gruner, brought to resoundingly camp life by Peter Wyngarde, whose accent really has to be heard to be believed ("Thet would be delait-fool").  Jennie Linden plays poor Violet, deep under the vicious brute's spell.  We get the impression of a very kinky relationship indeed and, Bluebeard-like, he forbids her from entering his study.

When Gruner peremptorily sends Violet away we learn that Holmes has been hovering outside the house waiting to get the dastard alone.  Gruner warns Holmes off.  "That is the very advice I had intended to give you," responds the detective, informing the Baron that the whole might of the British establishment will be against him.  But Gruner gloats over the "post-hypnotic suggestion" under which he holds Violet by sheer force of his personality, insisting there'll be no way of putting her off him.

Holmes returns to Baker Street to find Johnson waiting for him.  He's brought someone with him: the sour-faced doxy we saw earlier on.  Her name's Kitty Winter, and it seems Gruner was responsible for bringing her to her current station in life - due to which she nurses a passionate hatred toward him.  Kitty knows of two other murders Gruner's committed, as well as how evidence can be found: Gruner keeps a book with details of his "collection" - all the women he's brought low over the years - "He collects women like some men collect butterflies" - in a drawer in his forbidden study.  She's more than happy to co-operate with Holmes in defeating the Baron, determined to see him "In the mud with my foot on his cursed face."

But before resorting to any more drastic measures, Holmes decides to bring Kitty to see Violet in an attempt to change her mind about the Baron. Violet nearly falters at the sight of this previous victim of her fiancĂ©, but his Dracula-like power over her proves too strong.  Kitty departs with a dire warning: "You may be lower than I am before you're through with it."  The searing intensity of Leach's performance makes for a startling contrast with Wyngarde's flamboyant malevolence.

Outside, Holmes is set upon by a pair of Gruner's henchmen.  He ends up badly bruised, but commands Watson to spread the news that his injuries are far worse than they actually are.

Assured of his triumph, Gruner enters Violet's details into his book.  He's heading for New York in three days, meaning Holmes has to step up his plans to defeat him.

Holmes assigns Watson to become an expert on Chinese porcelain overnight to ensnare the Baron.  Watson does his very best.

Holmes supplies Watson with a priceless Ming bowl (from the illustrious client's collection), and sends him off to interest Gruner in it while he and Kitty sneak in and steal the book.  Nigel Stock's wonderful as the increasingly nervous Watson, whose supposed expertise fails to stand up to Gruner's intense scrutiny.

Gruner swiftly realises something dodgy's going, and rushes to his study, only to have vitriol thrown in his face by the vengeful Kitty.

Faced with the true extent of Gruner's perfidy as outlined in his book, Violet's shocked out of her infatuation with him.  Kitty gets just a month in prison, and Watson's astonished to discover that their client really is the highest in the land.

Finally tonight, the very welcome return of a TV Minus 50 favourite.  And as returns go. this is a pretty sensational one - surely the only time a TV show's kicked off its second series with the sight of Joan Collins having a breakdown at Charing Cross tube station.

A friendly commuter (and you don't get many of those) comes to the young lady's aid, but as he's busy trying to free her handbag from where it's got stuck in the escalator she suddenly sashays off, stripping off as she goes.

Having entirely removed her clothes (and, as you'd expect, caused quite the consternation among everyone she passes), she reaches the platform and tries to throw herself beneath the wheels of an oncoming train - though the station staff reach her just in time.

Visiting a colleague, Dr Tate (Derek Godfrey) to borrow some equipment, Dr Jimmy Davis is astonished to see the woman who attempted suicide.  He recognises her as Liz Kross, a former patient at St Damien's who was discharged just a few days before, her mental health apparently restored to normal.  It's clearly undergone a major relapse, as she's now entirely unresponsive.

Dr Roger Corder heads for Tate's hospital for a look at Liz, who's proving entirely resistant to any treatment.  It seems that her previous breakdown was caused by her mental distress at taking work as a stripper.  But she'd decided to give it up, so what could have caused this latest episode? Although she's no longer in their care, Corder and Jimmy decide to investigate.

While she was with Corder, Liz had refused to talk about her family, having been terrified they'd find out about her job, but Jimmy tracks them down.  Or so he thinks.  Though he's invited in by  Morticia Addams-alike Angie (Margaret Whiting), he's soon ordered out by the disabled Mr Kross (Clifford Evans), who insists he has no daughter named Liz.

Mrs Kross (Kay Walsh) follows Jimmy out, however, and informs him that Liz is indeed her daughter, and she's been desperately worried about her.  She and Angie meet with Corder - they had no idea that Liz had been admitted to hospital, but fill in some of the gaps.  Liz took the stripping job in order to save up enough money to send her father to an American doctor who could be able to make him walk ("A final bid to earn his affection," notes Corder, who's diagnosed Liz's relationship with her father as the root of all her problems).

It gradually becomes clear what transpired between Liz's discharge from one hospital and admission to another.  Once cured, she returned to the family home, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with the cheque that would pay for her father's cure.  But, having learned how she earned the money, he bitterly rejected her and tore the cheque up.  The result: instant mental collapse.

The question now is how to bring Liz back out of the dark.  Corder thinks that gaining her father's approval is the only thing that can cure her, so Angie agrees to try talking him round.  When she and her mother come to see Liz, they claim they've got him to agree to see Liz, but he's too unwell to do so this time.  Liz doesn't acknowledge their presence: she's only got eyes for Dr Tate's abstract sculptures.

But eventually Liz catches that ball they keep throwing at her, and from there she rapidly returns to engaging with the world.

Finally she reaches the stage where she's ready to go and see her family.  Angie and Mrs Kross watch from the window as Corder drops her off, and it becomes horribly clear that Mr Kross doesn't know anything about Liz's visit - in fact, they've given him pills to ensure he sleeps all the way through it.  They pass this off to Liz as being all part of his condition, and Angie (an ambiguous character performed with brilliant coldness) talks Liz into writing out the cheque again for cash in the hope they can get Mr Kross cured without ever knowing where the money came from.

But Liz insists on going in to see her father.  The door slams shut and he awakens, livid at seeing her in his home again.  In his ranting, it becomes clear that Liz isn't his daughter at all, but the result of an affair Mrs Kross had - and he's hated her all her life.

The result of this trauma is that Liz walks off before Corder can come from her.  Discovering she's missing he subjects the Krosses to his icy contempt before heading off to track her down.

Liz is back at the tube station, dazed and confused once more.  She's swept into a lift by the oncoming crowd.  Trapped against the grill, conflicting voices fill her mind...

...and the lift reaches the surface.  Liz exits into the daylight, not removing her clothes but buttoning them up, laughing with relief.  The revelation that Kross isn't her father has freed her from the need for his approval, and we're led to assume that her mental health problems are now well and truly behind her.  The Human Jungle stories are supposedly based on real case histories, and I can't help thinking that things probably weren't quite that clear-cut in reality.

It seems a bit odd for a programme to start its second series with a story that features its hero as minimally as this does, but I think finding fault with a show that gives us Joan Collins as a paranoid schizophrenic stripper is just being churlish really.

Sunday 21 February

Tonight's episode of Stingray pulls off the remarkable trick of being genuinely creepy for much of its length.  It begins at sea with a drifting boat, its sole occupant collapsed and staring into space.

Stingray answers the distress signal and picks the unfortunate mariner up.  He's taken to Marineville Hospital, which I like the look of.

The handsome (for a puppet) doctor is unable to work out what's wrong with him, however, despite the impressive array of flashing lights at his command.

Marina, we learn, has got some time off, and is enjoying a girls' night in with Atlanta Shore.  Well, Atlanta's enjoying it anyway, merrily yakking away with nobody to interrupt ("I have to admit the conversation's a bit one-sided," she says at one point - I like to think that Marina can't actually bear her company, but is unable to tell her so).  Here's something pretty mind-boggling: the magazine (or whetever it's supposed to be) that Marina is looking at seemingly features a photo of a real, non-puppet person.

There's no time to puzzle over that conundrum though, as strange things are happening at the hospital: the nurse looking after the comatose Thompson (for such appears to be his name) finds herself (well, I say herself - the puppet's clearly one previously used for a male character that's been repurposed with not entirely satisfactory results.  Still, it's not for me to judge people's sense of gender identity) incapacitated when he comes to and whips out a wristwatch with mysterious powers.  Note the use of a real human hand and a puppet in the same shot - I don't think they've done this before.

Lieutenant Fisher's the next person to fall victim to the watch's strange spell, crashing his car into a lamppost as a result.

Atlanta wakes in the night to find Thompson terrifyingly peeking round her door ready to put her out of action too.

The doctor's working round the clock to find a way of bringing the increasing number of victims out of their mysterious comas, but soon finds himself in one as well.

It seems that now Commander Shore is the only person in Marineville still up and about (his barber's definitely gone under, if his stubble's anything to go by).  But he too collapses when the watch makes its strange sound, falling right on his chair's controls and driving it straight at the camera.

It's just Marina who manages to resist, presumably because she's not human.

She dashes to the control centre to get in touch with Troy and Phones, who are out patrolling in Stingray.  Obviously, as she can't talk, the whole business proves quite tortuous, but eventually they work out a one tap of the mic for yes, two for no system that enables her to summon them back to Marineville.

It seems Marina really does like Atlanta, as she sits a sad vigil at her bedside - only to be locked in by the prowling Thompson (note the green nail polish on Marina's close-up hand).

Troy and Phones are astonished to find everyone in Marineville unconscious.

They head for the hospital and hear Marina banging away.  Once rescued, she eventually alerts them to the danger of the watch.  Poor old Phones gets used as bait for Thompson, but once he whips his watch out Troy shoots his out of his hand.  As soon as it's broken, the sleeping spell is too - and the eerie atmosphere that's made the episode so compelling up to that point disperses almost as quickly as it rushes to a prosaic conclusion.

The last thing Thompson recalls seeing before going into his trance was a strange ship rising out of the water - so Troy concludes that everything is the work of a(nother) undersea race, who are planning to invade Marineville.  We never get to see what they look like, as Stingray swiftly blows up their ship.   "Well, I guess that's ended their little plan," notes Phones.  "Yep, emergency over," responds Troy.

Monday 22 February

Long John Baldry, the Hoochi Coochi Men and Marianne Faithfull all show up on tonight's Gadzooks! It's All Happening on BBC 2.  For those who like their music a little more sedate, there's a new series of Date with Doonican on BBC 1 straight afterwards.  The Radio Times advises viewers to send any requests to "Val Doonican, BBC, Manchester 1" and also that the programme is directed by a Bernard Herrmann.  Surely not the Bernard Herrmann?!

Tuesday 23 February

Tonight's espionage adventure begins with The Plane Makers' Robert Urquhart becoming aware that a pipe smoking man's spying on him.  Understandably enough this makes him rather uneasy but he doesn't say anything to wife Sylvia Syms or their very smart children.

Instead, he heads off to work, with the pipe smoking man in hot (well, lukewarm) pursuit.

Having settled behind his desk, he then dashes off again, grabbing a taxi to Heathrow (it must be said that what we see of the entrance to the airport isn't very impressive, looking more like a garden centre than a major air terminal).

John Drake's called to the presence of Admiral Hobbs (who seems to have been demoted to Commander this week) and apprised of this vanishing act.  Turns out the chap's Charles Glover, an authority on modern China - which of course makes him suspect straight away.  Drake's ordered to track him down and bring him back.  The obvious lead is Mrs Glover, who Drake follows when she goes on a sudden trip to Greece.

Having planted a bug in her suitcase at the airport, Drake checks into an adjacent hotel room and listens in to her phone conversation with a man promising to take her to her husband.

Drake gets to the little island she's summoned to before she arrives.  Enjoying a smoke and a read outside the hotel, he's pestered by Nikos (the always shifty Maxwell Shaw), a local ne'er-do-well.

When Paula Glover arrives, Drake (calling himself Kimball this week) comes to her rescue when her Greek fails her with the hotel clerk, and gets her to agree to dinner with him as fellow Brits.  She's not overkeen on the local delicacy of octopus.

They go on to a bar where Nikos is twisting the night away with his "little friend".  Muscling in on their conversation, he reveals through the medium of a marked card that he's Paula's contact.  Though he can't see the card, Drake notes her astonished reaction.

When Nikos goes to Paula's room later to get her - he plans to take her to Albania, where Glover's waiting - he finds the bug and realises that Drake is an agent.  He interrupts Drake in the midst of sabotaging his boat, but Drake swiftly disarms him.

Drake tells Paula that if she goes with Nikos she'll end up in China, where she'll be forced to live in exile, separated from her children.  She agrees to insist that Glover be brought to her rather than the other way round so that he can be persuaded to return to England.  Drake assures her he will not be punished.

Nikos offers to pay Drake off ("Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," is the inevitable response), but is grudgingly obliged to bring Glover to meet Paula.  He's resigned himself to living in China, but he's got no time for spies of any stripe: "Kimball and Nikos. You know, they're professionals in a kind of chess game.  We're the pawns."

Paula changes Glover's mind, which Nikos seems surprisingly relaxed about.  Drake's certain he's planning something further.

And so it proves.  The next morning, the ferry due to carry the Glovers to Corfu to get the plane back doesn't turn up.  Drake borrows a rowing boat from an ungainly youth with a lovely jumper to look for it, but is swiftly capsized by Nikos, who leaves him to drown and heads to the Glovers' room with a sheaf of British newspapers all leading with the story of Charles' defection.

Convinced that Charles will be jailed if he returns home, the Glovers head for the Albanian border with Nikos.  Drake, who isn't dead, follows in a stolen truck.

As Nikos ushers the Glovers over the border, Drake catches up.  Nikos shoots him and causes him to fall off a high rock.  Horrified, Paula runs back to come to his aid, followed by Charles.

The police, on the trail of the stolen truck, arrive and nab the wanted Nikos.  Drake returns to England with the Glovers, assuring them of their safety.  But the minute they're back at Heathrow, Charles is pulled aside by the police.  Drake heads for the phone to get Hobbs' aid, but none's forthcoming.  "But you gave me your word!" exclaims a furious Drake.

"Did I, Drake?" smirks his boss.  Paula walks sadly away.  A fantastic pay-off to a middling episode.

Next tonight, a rare appearance around these parts by World in Action, which has a fab new title sequence making the production of a current affairs series look like the most exciting thing in the whole world.

The subject of tonight's programme is Malcolm X, who was assassinated on Sunday.  Actor Barry Johnson brings some of the man's most inflammatory speeches to life, and, horrifying as many of their sentiments are, it can't be denied he was a great rhetorician.

James Baldwin appears briefly to take Britain to task for its part in America's race problems: "One can say a great many things against America, but one can't say the doctrine of white supremacy was born there."

Mr X gets to speak for himself in the documentary only very briefly, pointing out that white people are a race of devils with much the same certainty you might point out that a pigeon is a kind of bird.

Hats for dogs make an unexpected appearance as a symbol of white America's consumerist excess while the country's black population was forced to live in squalor (I'm sure these dog hats also appeared in the series' JFK documentary - they must just be wheeled out regularly to show how bonkers Americans are).

A long passage of interview footage with adherents of the Nation of Islam ensures you'll never want to listen to the phrase "the honorable Elijah Muhammad" ever again.  They denounce Mr X as a traitor.

However, after leaving their group he still had an enthusiatic following among its more violent elements (this lot don't look all that violent, to be fair).

In the weeks before his death Mr X visited Britain, one of his stops being Smethwick, which had seen racial tensions bubble over during the previous  year's general election.

He was killed shortly after returning.  World in Action doesn't mince words about his legacy: "The real tragedy is not in the form of his death, but in the manner of his life, for behind him he had left an America in which he had played a part in making it more difficult for black man and white man to live together."

We're shown the startling image of a black Jesus (X was firm in the belief that the white man had brainwashed the black into believing Jesus was white) - which seems to have been thrown in mainly to give a section of the audience a fit of the vapours -  and some rather intrusive footage of a family grieving at the funeral of a black man killed, we assume as a result of black/white violence.  The impassioned speaker at the funeral on whom the programme ends is sadly unnamed.

Wednesday 24 February

Tonight's Wednesday Play, The Confidence Course is something of a milestone, being the first written by Dennis Potter.  Dennis Price and Stanley Baxter are the stars, with Artro Morris, Neil McCarthy and Yootha Joyce the most familiar other names in the cast.

Thursday 25 February

It's Thursday evening, so it's time for The Saint.  However, tonight's offering feels nothing at all like an episode of The Saint - it's more like a b-movie horror script that somehow got filmed for the series by mistake.  This is not in any way a bad thing, just a very odd thing.

If the great big caption reading "Haiti" at the beginning of the episode isn't enough to tip viewers off that there's voodoo in the offing, the dance routine that follows it, with a chap decked out in full Baron Samedi gear and leaping about in a pentagram, just might do the trick.

The dancer finishes his act by vanishing in a puff of smoke, much to the entertainment of the strictly segregated audience, with black Haitians at the back and wealthy white people at the front.  Among the latter group, inevitably, is Simon Templar.

After the show, Simon's approached by a young local named Sibao (played by half English, half Burmese Jeanne Roland - obviously exotic beauty was a more important qualification for the role than looking convincingly Haitian).  In a spooky alternative to the weekly "The famous Simon Templar" gag, she sprinkles dust on his table and gets him to wipe it off, revealing his name in glowing letters underneath.

The remarkable thing about Sibao is how unequivocal it is that magic - of the voodoo kind at least - really works.  The only character who seriously questions this obvious fact is the unsympathetic Mr Kreiger (Jerry Stovin), a loud-mouthed American drunk staying at the same hotel as Simon.  Sibao is renowned as the most powerful local practitioner of voodoo, but Kreiger insists he can explain all her apparent powers.  After he has a go at feeling her up, she reveals a name in the dust.

Despite his protestations, Sibao insists this is Kreiger's real name.  She leaves the table to join a dapper white man (John Carson) who's just made his entrance.  Simon's host, Atherton Lee (Nicholas Stuart) explains that this fellow, who goes by the unlikely name of Theron Netlord, is a "political opportunist" who's been involved in various recent revolutions.

Netlord's clearly an opportunist where Sibao's concerned as well: "You are one of the great ones," he tells her.  "You have been given powers denied to the rest of the world."  He's not happy with her using them for parlour tricks.

Simon chucks Kreiger out of the club when he quarrels with a waiter.  Driving back to the hotel, Kreiger loses control of his car and crashes into Sibao and her brother Tano (Tracey Connell).  Sibao's a bit bruised, but Tano dies instantly.

Despite crashing into a tree, Kreiger's still alive and well.  For now, at least: when the passing Saint picks up the wounded Sibao she calmly informs him that Kreiger will be dead before sunrise.

Simon brings Sibao to Dr Farrere (Kevin Stoney), who's become resigned to the locals placing more trust in magic than his skills.  He explains to Simon that Sibao's apparent lack of concern about her brother's death is down to the belief that he isn't really dead at all, he's just moved on to another stage of life.

Yet it seems to be necessary that Kreiger's life must be taken too.  Sibao's father (Christopher Carlos), the local houngan (voodoo priest) performs a ceremony which causes his son's corpse to disappear, only for his invisible, disembodied spirit to visit Kreiger's room and break his back in precisely the way Tano's was broken - Simon's car, on its way to Kreiger, suddenly stops while this visitation takes place.  Pretty scary stuff.

Rooting through the late Mr Kreiger's things, Simon finds an FBI ID card identifying him as Agent David Grant.  Simon calls a contact at the Pentagon (professional Yank Bruce Boa), who confirms that Grant was in Haiti to investigate Netlord - he was only pretending to be a drunk.  Which suggests that it wasn't alcohol that caused him to crash, but sabotage.

Another FBI man, Brinkley (John McClaren) flies out to see Simon, and recruits him in the effort to prevent whatever Netlord's up to in Haiti.

Simon goes to see Netlord, claiming to be a student of voodoo.  Netlord claims that thanks to Sibao and her father he knows more about the subject than any other white man.  He shows off his own powers of pain control by holding his hand over a lighter flame without flinching.  He boasts that he and Sibao will soon be married, and invites Simon over to dinner to celebrate.

Later that day Simon receives a gift in the post from Sibao: a medallion which the hotel cleaner identifies as a powerful charm - though whether it does the recipient harm or good is all down to the intentions of the sender.  Simon thinks that Sibao wishes him well.

Simon is greeted at the Netlord residence by Sibao, who reveals that her bruises have now entirely healed (as good an excuse as any for a great big close up of Jeanne Roland's shapely leg, I suppose).  Sibao cautions Simon not to mention the medallion to Netlord: it turns out that she doesn't want to marry him at all, but is being pressed into doing so by her father.  Realising that the marriage will result in Netlord learning all the secrets of voodoo and becoming all-powerful, Simon determines to sabotage it.

The wedding is to take place that very evening, and preparations are taking place in front of a rather cute monkey-like idol.  Seeing death in the flames, Sibao warns her father that Netlord must not learn the remaining voodoo mysteries, but he pooh-poohs her concerns.

Simon tells Netlord he plans to prevent his scheme of becoming the most powerful man in the world, but discovers that the would-be voodoo master has drugged him.  He manages to land a few punches even in his groggy state, but when he pulls a gun Netlord's able to calmly take it from him.  He reveals that it wouldn't have worked anyway, firing it at his own head to prove that bullets don't work on him any more.

Netlord shoots Simon, and heads out for his final initiation.  Simon comes round to find that his medallion caught the bullet.

Simon staggers to the hounfort with Sibao's aid, and at her insistence the houngan allows him to speak.  He decides to put Simon and Netlord to the test of serpents, which involves their hands being held over a basket of snakes: the dishonest man gets bitten. Sure enough, it's Netlord the snakes sink their fangs into.

Netlord now threatens Sibao's life to ensure he gets the knowledge he needs, but she casts a spell that causes him to drop the knife.  Shortly afterwards, he expires from the snake's poisonous bite.  The houngan shows Simon the basket: all it contains is a load of old rope (I wonder if writer Terry Nation was making a joke about his job consisting of making a load of old rope seem exciting).

For anyone wondering if Sibao marks a new, supernatural direction for The Saint, I can inform you that it was actually made well before any of the more mundane episodes already shown this year, so we're already back to business as usual.  The episode makes for an interesting footnote in the careers of both Roger Moore and John Carson: Moore's first outing as James Bond in 1973 will return him to much the same milieu as Sibao, while Carson will play a nefarious voodoo master again later in 1965 in Hammer's The Plague of the Zombies.

Friday 26 February

Now for this week's second welcome return...

Where The Human Jungle was able to pick up as if it had never been away, the opener of this second series of It's Dark Outside has a 75% new regular cast to introduce: only William Mervyn returns, as the implacable Chief Inspector Rose.  As a result, the episode's murder investigation plot is pretty slight: but, as we've come to expect from this series, it's chilling stuff nonetheless.

In an entirely blank space, estate agent Hosea Pitt (Brian Wilde), whose upbringing has left him a religious obsessive, begs an impassive woman, Ruth Mahl (Pamela Ann Davy, one of my favourite TV actresses) for an audience with a mysterious "She".  Ruth refuses to grant it, instead urging Hosea of the importance of getting rid of his wife.

In a set supposed to represent a shooting gallery but no less minimalist than the previous one, new regulars Veronica Strong and Anthony Ainley canoodle.  She's commercial artist Claire Martin, he's Detective Sergeant Hunter, and they're engaged.  Like many couples of the time, they're waiting till they can find the ideal flat before they marry.

Next we're in a Chinese restaurant, which apart from a couple of banners is another curiously blank set .  Ruth is dining with Mrs Pitt (Delena Kidd, from Secret Beneath the Sea) and trying to persuade her to leave her husband.  She points out that it's an entirely sterile marriage, and Mrs Pitt never does anything to encourage her husband anyway.  "Bitch!" mutters Claire, sat at a nearby table with Hunter.

If those sets (not to mention the story content) weren't curious enough, there's another quirk when Claire and Hunter say their goodbyes, and the camera pans up from Anthony Ainley's head before fading to the scene in the flat above (the first set we see that looks like an actual place)...

...where the final new regular character, Fred Blane (John Stratton), shuffles about, pouring himself a drink - he's clearly well on his way to alcoholic stupor already.  Claire enters, calling out a cheery "Hello, love."

Hunter returns to the office he shares with the terminally dull Sergeant Pritchard (Rex Boyd), forever droning on about the latest instalment in the condensed Hundred Most Important books he's wading through.  The police recruitment poster on their wall is rather special.

We learn that Fred is a journalist who Claire, a sucker for waifs and strays, has been looking after as he reminds her of her own alcoholic father.  He's been working on an article about the mysterious "She" we heard of earlier - the leader of a religious cult called the Chosen Persons, whose cardinal rule is total honesty with oneself.

Elsewhere, Ruth Mahl is frantically trying to escape from an attacker, who eventually corners her.

Hunter's called to the scene of her murder (she's been beaten to death), and recognises her from the restaurant.  Act One comes to a close with the arrival on the scene of Inspector Rose, who intends to take full charge of the case.

There's an awkward scene at the Pitt breakfast table, with Mrs Pitt insisting that she won't be got rid of.  Pitt assures her he doesn't want her to go anywhere, but that he felt forced into the arms of the Chosen Persons by his fears about his business, which the leader was able to assuage.  They agree he'll move back out of the spare room.  Pitt heads to work, without his walking stick for once, and his wife chuckles as she reads in the paper about Ruth's murder.

Hunter discusses the murder with Claire.  The women in the restaurant talked about a man with a stick - could this be a clue to the murderer?

Note that it's roses Claire's drawing.

Rose brings Hunter up to speed on the Chosen Persons: their leader's real name is Shirley Grot, but she goes by the rather more grand Chosen McDavid.  They decide to pay her a visit: they're granted an audience with the leader (Valerie Hanson), but her assistant Sarah (Anna Stuart) insists on them washing their hands seven times before speaking with her.  Rose lets Hunter wash for both of them.

All McDavid will tell the detectives is that shortly before her death Ruth had been expelled from the order for trying to extort money from Pitt in exchange for an audience with McDavid.  As Hunter leaves he bumps into Fred Blane, who's still working on his piece on the Chosen People.

Next, Hunter and Rose visit the Pitts.  Hunter recognises Mrs Pitt straight away from the restaurant but before they can question her Pitt confesses to the murder, claiming he killed Ruth because of her insults toward his wife - he left his stick behind at the flat.

Fred speculates to Claire that McDavid works on people's sense of guilt to isolate them from their families and submerge them within the cult.

Once Pitt's been questioned, Rose tells Hunter that though the man "wears his guilt like a second skin" he probably didn't kill Ruth Marle: for one thing, his stick wasn't found in her flat, but was discovered hidden in an empty flat his firm are selling.  Hunter speculates that Mrs Pitt might have committed the crime and framed her husband, but Rose doesn't think that fits either.  His plan is to return the stick to its hiding place and see who comes and gets it.

On his way, Hunter calls in to see Claire, and finds her horsing about with Fred.  He storms out before they can explain: "I've got an appointment with someone who's even more of a bitch than you are, if that's possible."

The retriever of the stick turns out to be none other than Chosen McDavid herself: "I killed her because I loved her, and I trusted her and she betrayed me."  If Fred's earlier sardonic reference to Ruth as McDavid's girlfriend is anything to go by, it's not just spiritual love she's talking about.

Claire's moping in her studio, with Jackie Trent's "Where Are You Now (My Love)"? on the Dansette (a reader informs me that the song was written especially for this series - which is exactly the sort of thing I'm supposed to know).  Hunter pays a visit, and she explains the nature of her relationship with Fred.  He seems to be satisfied - for now.

Pitt's appalled by the news of Chosen McDavid's arrest.  Much to his wife's chagrin, he begins pondering which religious sect to turn to next.

Hunter is called to Rose's presence, fully expecting a ticking-off for something.  But instead, the Chief Inspector praises him for his part in the investigation, and announces that Hunter is to be his new assistant.  Given absolutely no choice in the matter, the bewildered Sergeant is sat down and handed a pile of case files to plough through.  If it looked like Fred was going to complicate his relationship with Claire, it's certain Rose is going to to do so even more.

Before the end credits there's a caption slide advertising the next episode.

Sadly I won't be featuring Specimens Walk on Their Hind Legs, Too here next week as it no longer exists.  In fact, only one other episode from this series of It's Dark Outside does.  I will, of course, be taking a look at it in due course.

Outside the box

Saturday: The USA's unmanned Ranger spacecraft lands on the moon.
Tuesday: Bridget Riley's exhibition The Responsive Eye opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, drawing worldwide attention to her work for the first time.  Also, one of the world's most beloved Englishmen, Stan Laurel, dies aged 74.
Wednesday: Jennie Lee, Minister for the Arts, announces that the government will increase arts spending in pursuit of "a gayer, more cultivated Britain".

And to play us out...

It's the Seekers, up 3 places to number 2 in this week's singles chart with "I'll Never Find Another You", the Kinks having ascended to the top spot.  You can see the full chart for the week here.