Return of the Saint – The Armageddon Alternative

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Simon is abducted by a masked man and driven to an unknown location.  He’s shown an atomic bomb and the man tells him (via pre-recorded taped messages) that unless his demands are met the bomb will be detonated in the heart of London.

The mystery man’s demands are quite simple – he wants Lynn Jackson (Anouska Hempel) to be guillotined in public.  He gives Simon and the authorities until early evening to accede to his request – and in order to prove he’s serious, a conventional explosion will be set off every hour, on the hour ….

The Armageddon Alternative is a somewhat flawed story and the flaws are apparent from the pre-credits sequence.  Why does the masked man never speak?  The logical answer is that he’s a member of a team and the taped messages were recorded by somebody else.  Alas, logic has rather taken a holiday in this episode.

Simon later explains that the voice was recorded in order to disguise it (otherwise he would have instantly known who it was).  But that makes no sense – as soon as we hear the tape it’s obviously George Cole putting a funny voice on.  And when we see Fred (George Cole) a few minutes later it hardly takes a nuclear scientist to put two and two together.

Fred looks after the cars in Simon’s block of flats and is clearly the last person in the world you’d assume would be in possession of an atom bomb or have the skill to use it.  The mid episode reveal that he’s responsible should be a shocking twist – but it’s no surprise at all.  This possibly isn’t the fault of Terence Feeley’s teleplay though.  He would no doubt have assumed that director Leslie Norman (father of Barry) would be able to effectively disguise Cole’s voice.

What is a mystery is why Fred should want a gorgeous young woman like Lynn executed.  Although when it’s revealed that her father, Professor Loder (Frank Gatliff), is the Government’s chief psychiatric vetting officer, things begin to fall into place.  It seems obvious that someone who Loder filed a negative report against has decided to take the most drastic of revenge.

A likely suspect is Parkinson (Gordon Gostelow).  He turns out to be innocent, but takes a perverse delight in stringing Simon and the police along.  It’s a nice cameo from Gostelow who plays unhinged very well.  Indeed, the cast here is very strong – George Cole is his usual dependable self, whilst Anouska Hempel is also very watchable.  True, she’s not the strongest-drawn female character that ROTS has ever offered us, but Hempel manages to make something out of nothing.

Although laughs are thin on the ground, there was one (although I’m not sure whether it was intentional).  When Simon is kidnapped, he asks the man a question and amazingly the next thing on the tape is an answer to the question!  This is either an incredibly sloppy piece of scripting or a good joke.  It does rather bring to mind the Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as a barber who has an uncontrollable fear of cutting hair though.

Great cast, but as the identity of the bomber is blown before we see the opening credits I can only give it two and a half halos out of five.

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